Two of contemporary jazz’s mightiest heavyweights made a visit to The Chrome Showroom located inside the Las Vegas-based Santa Fe Station Hotel & Casino on Friday, November 16, 2012. Norman Brown and Gerald Albright are touring in celebration of their marvelous recent collaboration that’s titled 24/7 on the Concord Jazz label. The partnership, which finally came to fruition after nearly thirty years of friendship, resulted in an evening of pure musical delight. Both gentlemen would continually challenge and fuel each other while vying for the title of “Hardest Working Artist in Jazz.” Together, as well as individually, they displayed tremendous charisma and held the awestruck crowd in the palms of their hands all night.
The suitably titled “Keep It Moving” got the show off to a flying start. The twin keyboards of Summer Storm musical director Gail Jhonson and Tracy Carter supplied a gentle backing intro as Norman Brown and Gerald Albright took the stage and subsequently the music began in earnest. No warming up period was necessary, as the insistent propulsive groove was laid down right from the opening notes. Brown, the superlative guitarist, and saxophonist extraordinaire Albright each took turns shining brightly on this highly-energized extended version of the song from 24/7.
Albright then took a brief break off-stage while Norman Brown led the band in a chilled and alluring rendition of the title track and lead single from 2004’s West Coast Coolin’. That album was his successful follow-up to the critically acclaimed Just Chillin’ which had won him a Grammy in the prestigious Best Pop Instrumental Category. Norman’s artistic influences of Wes Montgomery and George Benson were luminously illustrated via liquid smooth guitar lines deftly executed in a quiet storm environment in unison with his succulent scat vocals.
Albright reappeared, replacing Brown, and informed the audience that he would “keep it old school.” The song he chose to pull off that feat was the title track from his second LP, Bermuda Nights, one of his best-known and most cherished songs. Mark Twain, the famous American author and humorist, once commented: “You go to heaven if you want – I’d rather stay here in Bermuda.” That beauty and tranquil allure of Bermuda that Twain had referred to are captured on Gerald’s song. The soft and sultry tune embarked with gentle keyboards sinuously swaying and twinkling like stars in the nighttime sky while Gerald teasingly elicited mass finger snapping from the crowd before undertaking soothing and magnificent flight on his tenor sax. The intensity gradually built, eventually picking up steam near the climax with Gerald showing his powerful ability to sustain long notes with a master’s authority.
Albright welcomed Brown back to the stage to join him in the playing of “In The Moment,” the first single released from 24/7. The mid-tempo song exhibited a funky feel-good sunny groove that propelled the jauntily bouncy song ever forward and provided a springboard for the super-duo of Brown and Albright to affix some embellishments to the vivacious melody. Melvin Davis, sitting on his stool, imparted thumb-thumping and plucking bass play to this ultra-pleasing arrangement. After the song was concluded Gerald sarcastically remarked “we’re going to slow it down now because I’m AARP and I’ve got to pace myself.” He introduced the next song as being from his very first solo project, and first single taken from said project. “So Beautiful,” the Luther Vandross standard, was lovingly served up by Albright with a heaping helping of sax soul and grace amidst beautiful elegant keyboards. This tender ballad was a truly appealing treat.
Norman proceeded to describe music as “The greatest gift that God has given us, with the power to make us feel so good.” Norman Brown’s music does precisely that. His constant highly infectious smile makes it obvious that he greatly enjoys performing for his audience, and the unmistakable love is strongly felt by all. The piece chosen to verify his statement of God’s Gift was his spirited performance of the “After the Storm” medley. Always a crowd pleaser, and a perpetual staple of his concert repertoire, the medley, which includes “That’s the Way Love Goes,” allowed Norman ample opportunities to nimbly extract enchanting clean and clear warm tones from his beautiful guitar. The guitar he wielded was a brand-new Norman Brown signature model, brilliant blue in color, made by Eastwood Guitars. Scat vocals supplemented further flavor to the medley, and Brown even had the crowd scatting along with him at one point. Norman then announced he was going to pay tribute to one of his early influences, and launched into a feverish wah-wah heavy homage to Jimi Hendrix in direct contrast to the breezy jazz fretwork he demonstrated on “After the Storm.”
After the introductions of the band were completed, Gerald asked if there were any fans of Ne-Yo in attendance; perhaps not even realizing that the noted songwriter, arranger, and vocalist Ne-Yo was born and raised right here in Las Vegas. That question was soon followed by Albright and Brown’s exceptional interpretation of “Champagne Life.” Gail Jhonson and Tracey Carter were glorious on keyboards and feathery vocals on the song that is getting airplay on both R&B and contemporary jazz radio stations. The soulful melodic interactions of Albright and Brown were tightly polished, yet still possessed a warm, natural “old school” feel.
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” written in 1930, was given a robust, rousing and bluesy rendition with a blistering-fast intro by Brown before settling into the more identifiable melody skillfully carried by Gerald Albright’s brilliant saxophone stylings. The drummer, Jerohn Garnett, was on point, varying his accomplished percussive techniques from soft whispered beats to loud thunderous pounding. The song then took another improvised turn, morphing into a funky jam with the audience on their feet feeling the groove and clapping along. Gerald got bassist Melvin Davis to come off his stool and join in the dance party out front as the room was jumping. When the band left the stage the audience made a deafening demand to bring them back out.
A classic from Grover Washington, Jr. was selected as their encore, and the joy expressed by the entire band was overwhelming. The synergy of Albright and Brown was immense, as these two seasoned veterans gave the appearance that they had been touring together for ages. On more than one occasion during the show, Brown referred to Albright as the “baddest saxophonist on the planet.” This accolade gains further credence when you take into account that Brown has toured with jazz icons Richard Elliot and Paul Brown on his recent Summer Storm outings. On this encore, Albright displayed the wailing grittiness and soulfulness that makes him such an internationally renowned artist.
The concert pairing of superstars Norman Brown and Gerald Albright was everything one could have ever wished for and anticipated. These two titans of contemporary jazz, along with their talented supporting players, provided a splendidly captivating evening of entertainment enjoyment.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com