Material: Though this show was billed as a celebration of his popular new contemporary jazz release Ivory Soul, veteran keyboardist John Novello launched the set with exciting perspective, setting the tone by going back a few decades for “One Less Worry,” an intense percussive jam recorded by his fusion band Niacin. The tunes from Ivory Soul, including the easy swinging “Shuffle The Deck” and the Top 10 Billboard Smooth Jazz hit “Crush,” were more mainstream, purely melodic “in the pocket” contemporary urban jazz, but each offered open doors to a spirited duality between Novello and Marienthal and powerful, high octane soloing by each member. Novello’s arrangements allowed for exciting dynamics, where even a subtle piano opening for “Blackbird” evolved into a crazy jam.
Musicianship: Novello is a master of the Hammond B-3, but as per the focus of the new album, engaged in pure, engaging “Ivory Soul,” balancing elegance, rich melodicism and emotional nuance with exciting percussive chording and exploratory improvisations. Marienthal ran the emotional gamut on his alto, driving songs powerfully and contributing gentle harmonies. This is the first gig Williams and Novello played together, and they were an instant match, grooving perfectly and opening spots for the bassist to dive into funk soloing. Griffin’s flourishes and soloing added thrust, while McKain took other tunes into exotic sonic dimensions. For “Funk Shui,” guest saxman Donald Hayes engaged in a fiery repartee with Marienthal that stole the show.
Performance: These are consummate musicians who could be engaging via technique alone. Because of their experience in the smooth jazz world, they know how to put on a show, drawing people in with inviting movements and playful intensity. Williams was especially compelling during his solos.
Novello’s amusing anecdotes showed he’s still as excited as ever to be hitting the charts and adding true jazz creativity to even the poppiest of tunes.
Summary: In a word, masterful. John Novello's show is the rare set that appeals to fans of fusion, trad jazz and smooth jazz alike. These are versatile musicians at the top of their game— even after thousands of gigs, they still bring a freewheeling sense of joy and transcendence to material both new and familiar. The melodies sparkled, the groove was infectious, and Novello’s invention and openness to individual solos kept the audience wondering what might happen next.
The Players: John Novello, piano; Eric Marienthal, alto saxophone; Darryl Williams, bass; Eric McKain, percussion; Rayford Griffin, drums.
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