Saturday, November 8, 2008

EARL'S MELLOW TONE

Guitarist Earl Klugh Dear Earl,

Yesterday, I made a tough decision. Saxophonist Joe Lovano performed at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. Pianist Jason Moran opened for him, and bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding is a member of Lovano's quintet. I missed her set at the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival. I wanted to hear her. (In September, Jazz Times magazine published an article about her success). Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts played at the Jazz Café’. I had to choose which concert to attend. I narrowed my choice down to your performance at Orchestra Hall and Lovano’s. Watts will play two sets tonight. If I am up to it, I can catch either the 10:00pm set or the second at 12:00am. Yesterday I mulled over which concert to attend. At 5:00pm, I finally decided to catch your set.

I purchased your new album Spice of Life last month, and I enjoyed every inch of it. Spice of Life was your first studio album in three years. "Naked Guitar" (2005) was your last album. I wondered why you stayed away so long. Before the intermission, you explained you had a beef with the brass at Warner Bros Records, which delayed the projects you had planned.

This morning I played the Spice of Life while I tidied up my home office. The music soothed me. In 2003, I took an oath. I promised myself I would be more receptive to smooth jazz. My feelings about that music changed that year after I heard saxophonist Everette Harp and keyboardist Bobby Lyle at the Idlewild Jazz Festival.

Both were members of the new Jazz Crusaders. The leader, trombonist Wayne Henderson, was the only original member. I recall Henderson strolled onto the bandstand. He wore a checker apron and a chef hat. He looked ridiculous. I was puzzled. I could not tell if Henderson was cooking barbecue before the Crusaders set started, and forgot to change. Harp and Lyle swung, and that surprised me.

Earl, I have to level with you. I never mentioned the oath to my jazz friends. You have to understand, my friends are “jazz purist,” and they hate smooth jazz. I did too, but not anymore. Smooth jazz musicians work just as hard as the musicians who prefer to play be bop, hard bop, acid jazz and free jazz. Smooth jazz artists also have loyal fans.

I attended your concert, and I enjoyed every song you played. I bet the audience awoke this morning with sore necks. They bobbed their heads nonstop for two solid hours. Earl, when you performed "Canadian Sunset" I wanted to remove my loafers, and waltz up and down the isle. On “Driftin"—the fifth song on the Spice of Life—I wanted to snuggle with the blonde-haired lady in the black evening dress with an ornate silk scarf covering her neck seated to my right, but I did not. It would have been inappropriate.

Earl, your playing was soothing and hypnotic. The devotion you showed your band-mates keyboardists Al Duncan and David Spradley, drummer Ron Otis, saxophonist Lenny Price, and bassist Al Turner impressed me.

You told the audience about their individual accomplishments, and you plugged their future projects. You were gracious; you had stagecraft; you shared the spotlight as well. That was thoughtful, indeed.

You cruised through the performance. Price and Spardley showboated some, but the audience ate it up. They cheered when Price ( a native of Inkster, MI) sashayed from the south end of the stage to the north end during his solo on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". When Price dropped to his knees like the godfather of soul James Brown the audience went nuts —what showmanship I thought Price had.

I was surprised when you said Spardley was a ex-member of the Parliament Funkadelic, and he wrote "Atomic Dog," one of the Funkadelic’s smash hits. Spardley looks like a soccer-dad not the kind of fellow who played in such an outlandish funk band. When he soloed, however, it was obvious he made his bones in such a band. Earl, I am glad I chose you. I wondered, however, if the people who attended saxophonist Joe Lovano’s concert had as much fun as the folks at your show.


--Charles L. Latimer
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