Concert points to the direction forward

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There were two predominant thoughts running through my brain all Saturday night at the Earl Cameron Theatre, as a near-capacity audience was gifted with the world-class performance of Bermuda Jazz, the Bermuda Festival’s second local offering for 2014.

“I miss Hubie’s” and “Bermuda needs a supper club” ran the litany.

(For those not in the know, Hubie’s was a little, unpretentious jazz club where musicians, local and visiting, could go to jam. There was a bar, a few tables, and space for no more than about ten couples to dance, but the music … the MUSIC was dynamite!).

Every one of the artists on Saturday night, both musicians and vocalists, was a seasoned performer and clearly at the top of their game.

They not only displayed a love for their craft and a patent enjoyment in performing, they could have held their own on any international stage!

It is a crying shame that there is no venue for them, and for other locals equally accomplished, to be heard on a regular basis. OK. Political rant over, but trust me, not forgotten!

Saturday night’s programme was billed as Toni Bari and Friends, and Toni, a transplanted Bostonian resident here for the last 30 years, filled the role of MC, band leader and primary soloist to the hilt.

He has an extensive array of credits and an impressive command of both piano and organ.

Opening the first set of evening with a Music of the Night Medley, including Andrew Lloyd Weber’s composition of the same name, Arthur Schwartz’ “You and the Night and the Music”, and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”, Toni was then joined by Stan Gilbert on guitar and Ronnie Lopes on drums for another medley.

Van Morrison’s “Moondance” featured Ronnie Lopes’ surprisingly tuneful, gravelly voice on vocals, followed by an instrumental version of Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke’s “Midnight Sun.” The trio as then augmented by the addition of Conrad Roach, who is more than competent on trumpet and flugelhorn.

He was featured in two Dizzy Gillespie selections, “Groovin’ High” and “Night in Tunisia”, and stayed to jam on Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers.”

Being an aficionado of female vocalists, the next two artists just blew me away with their flawless voices!

Gita Blakeney, last heard fronting Quincy Jones’ band at a Bermuda Jazz Festival, only gets better and better.

Her offering of a ‘Here’s to Life’ Medley which included Artie Butler’s composition of the same name, Cole Porter’s “What is this Thing Called Love,” Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” Webster and Burke’s “Black Coffee” which was a standout performance, and Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing,” with Conrad Roach skilfully adding his trumpet and mute to the tuneful mix, only had one complaint from me.

The programme notes indicate that the medley was to have included Michel LeGrande’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” a personal favourite, last heard sung by Violeta Carmichael accompanied by the late, very great Lance Hayward (please excuse the totally shameless plug). I’m sorry it was excluded, as Gita’s dulcet tones would surely have done the song credit.

The second set opened with Sheila Smith, another personal favourite who is always in great demand for private parties and who also plays piano for her church, in full voice and fine form! Dubbed by Toni as Bermuda’s Queen of Soul, her style of hair and dress for the evening personified a 40s sultry diva as she shared that her song choices were built around this year’s full moon on Valentine’s Day, when this performance was originally scheduled to take place.

The selections included Harry Woods’ “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” Arlen & Mercer’s “Ole Black Magic,” Jobim’s hauntingly lovely “Quiet Night and Quiet Stars,” which was dedicated to the memory of Milt Robinson, master guitarist, and Matt Denis’ eerie “Angel Eyes”.

Throughout both sets, Stan’s skilful guitar playing and Ronnie’s tasteful drumming provided the best kind of accompaniment a singer could ask for, with some very enjoyable solos thrown in.

The third set was heralded by Toni accompanying himself, singing an unscheduled “Everything Must Change” as the onstage band line-up switched to Denton Leader on drums, Derek Simmons on lead guitar, Dennis Francis on bass, Jade Minors on sax, and featuring Earl Leader on timbales and vocals.

Mr Leader’s smooth vocals in Victor Young’s “Stella By Starlight” suffered a little, first by having to follow those two strong female voices, and also because his voice was occasionally drowned out by the band, but he fully made up for it with his electrifying solo performance on the timbales during Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”.

In between, we were gifted with Al Jarreau’s “Morning” with a strong Yamaha organ solo by Toni, followed by Grover Washington’s “Wine Light,” where the formidable Jade Minors on tenor sax was allowed to shine.

Derek’s guitar solos were pure joy and Denton laid out some fascinating solo rhythms.

Despite the late hour, it seemed the evening ended all too soon with the entire ensemble on stage.

Earl once again took the vocal lead with Gita, Sheila and Ronnie singing backup for Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day,” and an exciting Earth, Wind and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World”.

Overheard as the audience was exiting the theatre was the multi-echoed desire for the ensembles’ annual inclusion in the Bermuda Festival line-up. I couldn’t agree more.

I would only add the wish that we could be gifted with such fabulously superlative music much more often than once a year. I sincerely hope the show was recorded.

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Published Feb 25, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 24, 2014 at 6:48 pm)

Concert points to the direction forward

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