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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Air J Jazz fest final night

Some jazz did show up at the Air jamaica Jazz and Blues festival on Saturday night. The New Stylistics
wowed the crowd, but my pick for the night remains Earth Wind & Fire

Strings, swing and the 70s Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues review
    IN putting Saturday night’s superlative closing presentation at the Rose Hall aqueduct into context, we have to the late former prime minister Michael Manley. Floridabased group Strings set a mellow tone to be gin; jazz showed up, bouncy, unassuming yet unapologetic, in the person of Monty Alexander and a wisely chosen crew of special guests; said jazz embraced reggae, with no compromise or dilution on the part of either; and a pair of soul supergroups that blossomed in the 1970s, gave a lesson the musical spirit of that era, a lesson not lost on latterday soul journeyman Anthony Hamilton, who appeared in between.
    In short, the word on Saturday night was love.
    In the generally narrow band of music appreciation that prevails among Jamaicans, Earth Wind and Fire means Reasons and little else. The hordes who streamed into the front of stage area - and clogged the space with their folding chairs (more on that later) were expecting the group to deliver their landmark hit
    immediately and for the love-fest to begin - but Phillip Bailey, Verdeen White and company flipped the script.
    With the volume levels turned up - way up - the band launched a blistering funk attack that proved severe enough to drive many of the uncommitted away from proximity to the speakers.
    The remaining faithful, and the rest of the large audience, were eventually rewarded with the prized tune, part of a suite of ballads that also included In My Heart Tonight and After The Love Is Gone. Thereafter, its was ‘hitsville’ a potpourri of some of their biggest numbers, including Let’s Groove, Got To Get You Into My Life, Devotion and September. The band members exited the stage at this point, prompting some to believe the show was over, but the faithful new better. When they returned and struck up the opening bars of That’s The Way Of The World, one got a sensation of satisfaction very much akin to completing a superlative meal at a five-star restaurant.
    Russell Thompkins and the New Stylistics earlier offered their own musical buffet, one liberally sprinkled with the love ballads, slick dance moves and tight harmonies that made the original group radio staples. Sharp, seasoned and exuding soulster cool in their neatly tailored powder blue suits, the Stylistics made the Aqueduct into an oasis of good taste, decency and sensitivity.
    He may have lacked the sartorial eloquence, but American southerner Anthony Hamilton showed respect for his hosts, as he and his two backup singers were decked out in ‘Jamaica’ T-shirts. Even at the start of his set, there were questions of “Who dis guy?” But if Hamilton came to the MoBay stage a stranger, he certainly left it as a friend, if not a brother. His humility, honesty and genuine affinity for the music came through on selections such as Where I’m From, Charlene, Better Days and Sista Big
    Bones, the later a wry compliment to ‘full-figured’ women.
    In his umpteenth appearance at the jazzfest, piano man Monty Alexander began with a venture into dub, before retracing his musical journey from Jamaica to the US and around the world.
    He got sterling assistance from Freddy Cole (brother to Nat), who sparkled on Route 66 and Straighten Up And Fly Right, from New Orleans native Herlin Riley (an alumnus of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ small groups as well as the Jazz @ Lincoln Centre orchestra) on drums; frequent Alexander collaborator, bassist Hassan Shakur and tenor saxophone statesmen Red Holloway and Houston Person. Tony Rebel and Dean Fraser also chipped in to good effect. They set feet a dancing, even as the heavens opened - just briefly- for a moderate shower.

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