Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Midnight Jam #3

At midnight, it was time for another Midnight Jam, the core band with host Gerald Veasley on bass, Richard Waller on drums, Donald Robinson on keys and Chris Farr on sax started the night with a groovy instrumental, before all the various guests joined in. Among the many players that I still remember were the legendary Cedric Napoleon on bass, one of the founding members of Pieces Of A Dream, bringing the house down with his funky bass playing. Then Doc Gibbs, also legendary percussion player who played with all the greats (among them Bob James) briefly popped up, among people like guitarists Nick Colionne, David P. Stevens, Marc Antoine, bassist Brian Bromberg, drummer Carl Anderson, saxophonist Erich Cawalla, keyboardists Joe McBride, Tim Gant, bassist Nicklas Sample and singer Elliott Yamin, who wrapped up the night with "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Superstitious". Those jams are always a lot of fun.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Jazz Attack

At 10pm, Jazz Attack appeared at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom. I have seen this band several times, but they manage to entertain me each time. The featured players were Rick Braun on trumpet, Peter White on guitar and Euge Groove on saxophone, plus special guest Elliott Yamin on vocals. The band consisted of Ron Reinhardt on keyboards, Eric Valentine on drums and Nate Phillips on bass. This band plays like a well oiled machine that grooves with perfection. They kicked off the show with Rick Braun coming from the rear doing his "Cadillac Slim", having the audience right in the palm of his hand from the start. Then it was Peter White's turn to do "Promenade", before Euge Groove notched things up a notch with his "Got 2 Be Groovin'" and "Living Large". Another favorite was Rick Braun's "Notorius" featuring his great flugelhorn playing and Euge Groove's gutsy saxophone. Peter White did his cover of the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady", and while being at it, veered off into "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", which is always a crowd pleaser. Elliott Yamin came to the stage doing his rendition of the Skylark classic "Wildflower", followed by his own "Gather Round" which had people clap along, and others. Peter White did "Head Over Heels" from his Smile album, before he played "Bueno Funk", one of my all-time favorites from his catalog. Then Euge Groove had people dancing in front of the stage with his "From The Top", honoring the best dancer with a prize in the form a vinyl album of his Got 2 Be Groovin' release (yes, vinyl lives!). As an encore, they played "Grazin' In The Grass" and, as people wouldn't let them go, Bill Withers' "Use Me" with Elliott Yamin, bringing a truly great show to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Alex Bugnon & Friends

Friday night at 7pm, Alex Bugnon and friends were doing a show called "Honoring the masters of fusion" at the Jazz Base. The band consisted of Tommy Campbell on drums, Gerald Veasley on bass, Chris Farr on saxophone and EWI, Chieli Minucci on guitar and Alex Bugnon on keyboards. The started their show with two of their own compositions, before they started to delve into the rich vault of history's fusion material. Miles Davis' "Tutu" was a great track that not only grooved hard, but also provided lots of opportunities for everybody to solo. Another highlight was their rendition of George Duke's "Black Messiah", one of my favorite tracks of his, which kept our heads bopping. Other material played ranged from Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" to Chick Corea's "Spain", the band was in fine form and played for almost two hours, providing a very nice show that definitely did the masters of fusion justice.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Berks All-Star Jazz Jam

Thursday night at 8pm, the traditional Berks All-Star Jazz Jam took place at the sold out Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom, due to the fact the longtime host of previous years, Chuck Loeb, had to play with Fourplay that night, it was trumpet player Rick Braun and bassist Gerald Veasley hosting the show. The night was dedicated to the late Jeff Golub who passed away this new year's eve at the age of 59. As always, there was an incredible amount of talent crammed onto the stage playing for us that night, the lineup consisted of Eric Valentine on drums, Brian Bromberg and Gerald Veasley on bass, Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci, Peter White and Marc Antoine on guitar, Everette Harp, Euge Groove, Gerald Albright, Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor on saxophone, Bobby Lyle, Jay Rowe and Joe McBride on keyboards and Rick Braun on trumpet, plus singer Elliott Yamin. They opened their show with "Cold Duck Time" giving each player some solo space, bringing things up to speed. After that song with all the artists playing, they continued the show with varying combinations of players. Next was Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", later they did Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" featuring Joe McBride on vocals, before singer Elliott Yamin joined the proceedings for Jr. Walker's "Shotgun" with Euge Groove being the featured saxophone player, as a surprise guest, Kirk Whalum stepped onto the stage for some additional fun.

After the intermission, the show continued with Ronnie Laws' "Always There", Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island", then Nick Colionne was featured on "Nick's Blues" with some great guitar playing and witty lyrics. For a change of pace, we got an unplugged rendition of Chick Corea's "Spain" on four guitars, before Elliot Yamin came back to do Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love", which is always a crowd pleaser. As an encore, everybody came back to the stage to play "Mustang Sally", bringing another great All-Star Jazz Jam to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Billy Cobham

On Wednesday evening at 7.30pm, one of my personal highlights with the concert of legendary drummer Billy Cobham was due. He is touring to promote the 40th anniversary of his seminal album Spectrum which was released in 1973. The drummer is 70 years old by now but still at the height of his craft, his drumming was powerful and flawless, and witnessing his playing is an awesome experience. He had a great band with him, Ric Fierabracci was on bass, Gary Husband on keys and the inimitable Dean Brown on guitar. The ensemble went through some lengthy fusion tracks with lots of soloing, especially Dean Brown and Gary Husband were stretching out a lot. They did songs like "Stratus", the nice laid back "Heather", and - as an encore - the inevitable "Red Baron", bringing a great fusion show to an end. Accompanying this tour is a 2CD set of a live recording from this tour with the same band called Spectrum 40 Live.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Berks Bop Big Band

On Tuesday evening 7.30pm, the Berks Bop Big Band was appearing at the Building 24 in front of a packed house, boasting a first-rate lineup with Brian Bromberg on acoustic bass, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jeff Lorber on keys, Chuck Loeb on guitar, plus a 13 piece horn section, featuring saxophonists Everette Harp, Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, Andrew Neu, plus Chris Heslop on baritone and Rick Braun on trumpet, apart from some of NY finest trombone and trumpet players completing the band. The band also released their CD Bop that night, whose proceeds will support the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Foundation. Lorber, a kidney transplant recipient, has PKD. The band played a large selection of be bop classics, kicking off their show with Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time", followed by others like Monk's "Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser", "Night In Tunisia", "St. Thomas" and others with spirited solos by all members of the band, delivering another exciting evening for the true jazz fan.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Dianne Reeves

At 7.30pm, songstress extraordinaire Dianne Reeves appeared at the Miller Center For The Arts with her stellar quartet. This venue provided the intimate setting that was very suitable for her music, she was totally in command of her voice and dazzled us with her flawless singing, doing songs that ranged from gospel to jazz to soul. Her sung introduction of the band members is always a very enjoyable part of the show, her band consisted of Peter Martin on piano and electric keyboards, Romero Lumbambo on electric and acoustic guitar, Reginald Veal on acoustic and electric bass and Terreon Gully on drums. She was in fine form and ended the night with "Better Days", one of her signature songs.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Gerald Albright

After an intermission, our favorite saxophone player Gerald Albright was on, he had a stellar band with Chris "Big Dog" Davis on keys, J.J. Williams on drums and Ace Livingston on bass. He is such a consummate player and gave the people what they wanted with songs like "Bermuda Nights", "It's A Man's Man's World", "Anniversary" and "Georgia On My Mind". He also played the flute which was nice change of pace. Very notable was the string solo of Chris "Big Dog" Davis which was a riot and a crowd pleaser. One more great show by the G-man.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Jazz Funk Soul

The afternoon continued at 2pm with the show of Jazz Funk Soul featuring the combined talents of Everette Harp on saxophone, Jeff Lorber on keyboards and Chuck Loeb on guitar, they were backed by the awesome Rayford Griffin on drums and Ron Jenkins on bass. They did a varied and interesting show featuring tracks from their JFS release plus a few from their individual catalogs, like Jeff Lorber's Hacienda. Everyone poured his heart into their performance, I was glad to see Everette Harp back in stride again.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Urban Jazz Coalition

Sunday morning at 10am, there was the Sunday morning brunch at the tent, which offered the opportunity to hear the Urban Jazz Coalition, a jazz-funk band from Columbus, OH which was founded 20 years ago by bass player Phil Raney. They delivered a nice set of covers by Marcus Miller, the Rippingtons, Kirk Whalum and others, plus a number of their own compositions that featured the various players of the band, among them saxophonist Richard Randolph. They ended their nice show with Weather Report's "Birdland".