By Scott Hayes
NEW HAVEN -- The collaboration of three smooth jazz solo artists on tour together drew a sellout crowd to Southern Connecticut State University's Lyman Center for the Performing Arts Friday night, May 30.
Heading into the final days prior to the Elm City stop for the "Jazz Attack" tour featuring saxophonist Euge Groove, trumpet player Rick Braun and guitarist Peter White, the university web site reported the concert as sold out, with only limited sight-lines, side seating available. But even those seats were occupied for the anticipated finale of the spring concert series. Anyone who knows a little about the threesome booked to close the jazz series also knows that it's not the sights so much as the sounds of Groove, Braun and White.
The trio, backed by a bouncy three-piece rhythm section, helped to overcome the poor sight-lines in the semicircle theater by performing off-state at times, taking their instruments for a stroll through the audience. The show opened in such a manner, with Braun entering from backstage through a side door, a sole spotlight silhouetting him and his horn on a brick wall to the side of the stage. Braun began the music with a solo number, strolling through the audience before hopping on stage to join the rhythm section -- bass, drums and keyboards.
White was next of stage, joining Braun, who accompanied the guitarist on the next number, setting his trumpet aside to assist on flugelhorn. Next out strode Groove (formerly known as Eugene Groove, saxophonist with the Tower of Power horn section before pursuing a solo career) brandishing a silver tenor sax, and the three were in a groove for the next 90 minutes and a lengthy, 10-minure encore. The three smooth jazz artists jammed and traded riffs brimming with funk and soul, bringing to mind James Brown, Average White Band and Maceo Parker during an instrumental maelstrom. Grove queried the audience, "Do You Believe Now?" after the fiery mixture of sax and trumpet and White's flourishes on electric guitar.
Braun provided the framework for the next song, a sampling from his "Body & Soul" CD, "Notorius" The trumpet player started the number, gave way to both White and Grove to take over for their interpretations on a theme, and wrested control to segue into a solo reminiscent of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moucher."
The dabbling during early portion of the performance set the bar for the rest of the evening, and White kept up with the high expectations with a reference "our friends the Isley Brothers" before taking off on swashbuckling guitar during "Who's That Lady," that included musical references to "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes and the Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone."
Grove then rolled out one of his more popular songs, "Livin' Large," that featured the rhythm section, which was up to the task of providing ample, booming backbeat to match the saxophonist's lead on tenor. Braun then rolled out a new song, "Get Up and Dance," previewing a new release due out July 8 and featuring Dave Koz on sax, which Grove handled masterfully. White contributed a song, a ballad he wrote based on visiting a country, that allowed him to play troubador, with a little bit a flamingo guitar playing.
The jam was on for one of Grove's many funky songs, and as no surprise his musical lines had a little Oakland stroke and hipness mixed in. White responded with a Brazilian-flavored tune, with Spanish guitar strains and when Braun kicked in with his horn contribution, you might have thought Herb Alpert was in the house. Of course that wasn't the last in a steady diet of one-upsmanship, and the 11th and final tune of the set included a "007" theme interlude and a reggae portion staked by the rhythm section -- Bob Marley's "Stand Up for Your Rights.
The packed house wanted more, and the band returned for an encore, Michael Jackson's "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground," a Jackson Five oldie, but Jazz Attack wasn't over yet. The group continues with the '60s brassy "Grazin' in the Grass," and then concluded the night with some vocal help from the crowd on Bill Withers' "Use Me."
The SCSU jazz series resumes in the fall with four concerts beginning on Sept. 27 with another jazz/funk/soul collaboration bringing together Chuck Loeb, keyboardist Jeff Lorber and Everette Harp, a double bill on Oct. 25 featuring Four80 East and Nick Colionne, trumpet player Chris Botti on Nov. 15 and concluding Dec. 6 with Dave Koz and Friends. For online tickets and information, go to www.southernCT.edu/Lyman Center.