Concert Date:
May 30, 2008

reviewed by:
Shannon West

It's hard to believe that the first Guitars and Saxes tour was in 1995, back when getting the quadruple whammy of four stars on stage at the same time with a phenomenal backup band that had star power of its own was unheard of. There were few package tours on the road at the time but their success as well as the economy of the music business and the touring industry have caused more artists to gather together and hit the road. This one has earned its staying power, basically following a formula of two guitarists and two sax players, but originally it was "Guitars and Saxes and More," the "more" being Rick Braun. The "more" factor is back this year with the addition of keyboard wizard, composer, arranger, and producer Jeff Lorber, who joins long standing tour members Peter White and Jeff Golub, and Gerald Albright, with rising sax star Jessy J, as a member of the band.

With the addition of Lorber they have reconfigured the structure of the concert. They have tweaked with segments of the show over the years and shared the stage for several songs but the core of the show was solo sets by the headliners. Each artist would come out and do a set with the band and one of the others might walk on for a solo during a specific song, then they all got together for the finale and the encore. This year the artists themselves are the band, with Dwayne "Smitty" Smith on bass, Rayford Griffin on drums, and Jessy J. on sax and keyboards. Having this group of musicians on stage for the duration of the show was thrilling. Hearing them move into the new territory that Lorber brought to the package was icing on the cake. Fusion and funk were present in abundance with some trad/bop on the side.

The artists introduced each other as the one being introduced played a recognizable segment of one of their most popular songs. For the rest of the evening the song selection covered the spectrum of contemporary jazz and pop instrumental music. With White still riding the success of his recent cover album, Playin' Favorites and Albright about to release Sax for Stax, a tribute to the label that defined Memphis soul, the show could have become a nostalgia fest. It was not, because both these artists played wild and free with the framework of the popular hits they covered. Toward the end the band would be soloing and riffing off each other with the lead instrument being played so powerfully that the song at hand became much more than what it started to be. Throughout the show White was playing acoustic as if it were electric, throwing down fleet fingered solos and power chords that revitalized nuggets like "What Does It Take" and "Who's That Lady," which he spiced up with some wah-wah effects. He even threw the trademark lick from "Smoke On The Water" into the middle of a rousing version of "Bueno Funk."  Albright brought on the funk and taught a master class in dynamics, power and nuance whether he was front and center or in the back. He hit a high note and held it till the roof was raised during "Never Can Say Goodbye," made each note speak during "My, My, My," which segued in and out of “Misty” during the middle. Then he went deep fried and roadhouse gritty  on "Cheaper To Keep Her" and had everyone on the edge of their seats during his stirring take on "Georgia On My Mind."

Lorber brought in the fusion factor, as well as the most eclectic batch of songs. His jumped right in with "Toad's Place," a nugget from the his Jeff Lorber Fusion days. Fast and fired up, it gave Jessy J her first solo moment, showing that she can hang when it comes to in your face sax and speedy runs, while Rayford Griffin totally went off on drums. "Surreptitious," recorded almost 30 years later, has equally fusion driven underpinnings, complete with Fender Rhodes lines that recall Return To Forever's heyday.  "Anthem For A New America" is a lyrical acoustic piano piece and “BC Bop” was just that, some bop and straightahead with Albright and Jessy J playing dual saxes tight, fast and clean.

For a rock guitar geek like me it's always about Golub, who has carried the Jeff Beck torch into the (so called) smooth jazz arena not because he is imitative, but because he can take one note and just sear it, bending it and stretching it till it leaves you breathless. "Naked City" is a blues rock showcase made up of moments like that, this time with Lorber providing the fill. It was stunning. He and White exchanged powerful, heated licks during their duo-hit "Dangerous Curves" and whipped out a fuller, bigger sounding version of "Cut The Cake" sneaking a riff from "Good Times" into the middle of it. Mostly he did what stellar rock guitarists tend to do. He adding the stun factor to other people's songs with perfectly placed solos, some note bending theatrics and a huge dose of showmanship. Golub Rocks. 'Nuff said!

Every version of G&S has had its own vibe. One rocked so hard it sent people like me into ecstasy and the "smooth and relaxing" crowd running for the earplugs (or the door), some leaned acoustic and a tad on the mellow side and some had high octane wailing saxes to spare. All of them have been high on the showmanship and camaraderie scale and every one I've seen has been downright fun. This one is one of the most musically diverse and it seems like even the regulars have taken it up a notch, or 10. They will be heating up the concert circuit all summer long. Whether it's your first or your 14th this is one you can't miss.