ROY AYERS & THE ORIGINAL SUPERSTARS OF JAZZ FUSION w/ LONNIE LISTON SMITH , JEAN CARNE , WAYNE HENDERSON , BOBBI HUMPHREY , RONNY LAWS and JON LUCIEN at the Phoenix, November 16. Attendance: 700. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Oh, this internet age. My attention span's become shorter than Kim Jong-Il without the platforms, and frankly, the prospect of being lulled through an evening of butter-smooth alt-jazz soul was somewhat daunting.
On the one hand, Roy Ayers is a legend whose music has been given new life through hiphop sampling, and his vibraphone-filled jams are incredible. Add a roster of his slightly lesser-known friends and there's remarkable potential for some sexy times. On the other, I'm all too aware that musicians in this genre tend to really take their time, drawing romantic songs out into serenades for the very patient.
So it's really saying something that after Bobbi Humphrey 's 10-minute-plus jazz flute sonata cover of Lionel Ritchie's Hello, I still wanted more. Humphrey, the first female signed to Blue Note (in 1971), was by far the highlight and most energetic member of Ayers's soulful entourage.
The backing band relaxed the BPMs of the already slow ballad, and her plaintive flute, as all great covers should, sifted out the melodic brilliance of a song seen in pop culture as the ultimate musical manifestation of the sappy soul ballad. In her mesmerizing version of the 1984 hit, it helps that her gleaming flute lines supplant the cringeworthy lyrics.
She then launched into a crunked-up version of her own Harlem River Drive, singing and playing alongside the equally keyed-up chorus of Ayers and soul singer Jean Carne , who repeatedly reminded people in an upbeat manner that this was the "remix - 06."
Every performer at The Original Superstars Of Jazz Fusion played in a distinct style that imbued each brief performance with a strong identity. This variety kept ADD-prone listeners like me vitally awake during what could have been a sedatingly smooth night.
Other strong points included fuchsia-zoot-suited Jon Lucien 's delicate ballad Dindi, which counterbalanced the liveliness of the frenetically foot- tapping Lonnie Liston Smith 's intricate, high-voltage keyboard riffing. Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders tore the roof off the place with his powerful horn histrionics.
Of course, Ayers himself was the pillar of the night. In addition to MCing, the Californian jazz innovator provided kinetic energy on the vibraphone, turning out his best-known number, Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Then, in true love-in fashion, all the Superstars joined him to round out the night with a heart-stopping rendition of The Crusaders' Keep That Same Old Feelin'.