Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cruisin' Smooth with Norman Brown and Co.

Jazz lovers from around the world and from all walks of life were swimming in first rate, crowd pleasing (and at times surprising!) performances by Acoustic Alchemy, Mindi Abair (who was especially impressive), Greg Adams, Larry Carlton (and his Grammy nominated-wife Michelle Pillar), Steve Cole, Alan Hewitt, Boney James, Michael Lington, Michael Manson, Marion Meadows, Chielli Minucci, Steve Oliver, Shilts & Althea Rene' aboard the Celebrity Cruise Ship Century during the recent Smooth Music Cruise to Key West, Nassau and points in between.

Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown did a yeoman's job as cruise host and played an electrifying set that included the singing of his two daughters; we found that one is currently a student at Berkeley School of Music. In fact, Norman's unpretentious, good natured vibe seemed to permeate everything; it was most evident in the camaraderie between musicians, who played on each other's gigs and watched the work of their fellow players from the audience.

And gauging by the audience reaction, singer Heather Headley's gig was even better than her grand performance on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial during the Obama Inaugural weekend "We Are One" concert (see YouTube video).

Perhaps the biggest stars of the trip were Neptune & Mother Nature; both were in good spirits and weather on land and at sea was mostly sunny and trouble-free albeit a little chilly and a tad rainy for some of the day in Nassau.

The unsung heroes were the rock solid steady and indefatigable "house" rhythm section musicians who played, with only two rehearsals, a dizzying array of styles and moods and some 105 songs over a five day period; they brought the house down with a version of the rock anthem "Vehicle" which also featured the song's creator, guitarist/songwriter Jim Peterik, formerly of the bands Ides of March and Survivor; you may remember that Jim also penned "Eye of the Tiger", made famous by it's inclusion in the "Rocky" motion pictures.

We saw one of the rhythm section players, the bassist, in the Ft. Lauderdale airport after the cruise; he was on his way to another gig, with The Fifth Dimension!

But by far the most inspired moments during the 5 day soiree came from watching the aqua green Caribbean Sea glide by while listening to the soft voice and soothing guitar of The Century's resident balladeer Franklin at the aft deck bar and the incomparable, late jam sessions hosted each night of the cruise by guitarist Nick Colionne, who showed uncanny comedic flair in addition to his deft skills as a bandleader, participant and Fashionista. Seeing Colionne at the helm with some of the finest jazz musicians in the world unwinding at the end of the night by playing the music Sly Stone, Funkadelic, Miles Davis etc. is a sight and sound we won't soon forget...

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