Playboy Jazz Cruise: Galaxy of Greats Shine On Caribbean
Keb' Mo's artistry was heard in all aspects of the blues. First appearing with Miller's amplified band, he shouted them out. However, he was most successful later in the week in the Queen's Lounge in a solo set with just his acoustic and steel guitar, entrancing the audience with such as the plaintive "Lula." His roots lie with artists such as Muddy Waters and Taj Mahal, and, in his selection of mostly originals, he proved he was keeping the faith.
Roy Hargrove and his quartet began in high gear, with the leader playing flugelhorn on the standard "Too Soon." From there it was up hill to the finale, an unannounced original in which Hargrove opened up even further and, with a toreador's flourish, hailed the crowd with a ceremonial trumpet call to the bull ring. A stunning finish, capping what some said was one of the best sets ever.
Herbie Hancock showed both his funky and mainstream side in his varied and satisfying performance. With Miller's 10-piece band backing him, he alternated between piano and keyboards. Standing out was a new, extended take on the leader's famous "Watermelon Man." Also very effective was a haunting version of his "Maiden Voyage." A couple of unannounced numbers hearkened back to the '80s Miles Davis' groups, in which both Hancock and Miller got their start. Hancock on piano was outstanding; his keyboard work, likewise, with surprising harmonica and vocal effects.
Marcus Miller's final-night set was definitely a highlight, an effective climax to the cruise. It seemed here that his great talent is to fuse jazz with other musical categories. Opening with his "Blast From Istanbul," he transformed the electric bass into a Middle-Eastern instrument; in another number, he put a beat to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"and it really swung. As he took up the bass clarinet, he finished with an amazing medley. "Amazing Grace" slipped into Ellington's "In My Solitude," and emerged as "When You Wish Upon A Star." Fittingly, the band's encore, the Beatles' "Come Together," aptly described what Miller had just accomplished with the music.
ALL THAT JAZZFANS, JAMS AND THE REST
In the tiny Ocean Lounge, up close, pianist Rosnes got to fully show off her great talent. Playing with potent backup, bassist Coolman and drummer Nussbaum, she expressed unique vision and improvisational skills with her adept handling of Monk's dissonant "Green Chimney;" her stark simplicity on "Happy Days Are Here Again" and her impressionistic vison in Rodgers and Hart's "Spring Is Here."
As well, in the Queen's Lounge, vocalist Roberta Gambarini's impeccable taste and swinging sensibility were apparent in a collection of standards. After recounting the opera "Madame Butterfly," she gave a heart-rending version of "Poor Butterfly." Exhibiting her eclectic range, she went into a smashing interpretation of Patsy Cline's country classic "Crazy." Her pianist on the cruise, Orrin Evans, deserves praise, his accompaniment was nothing short of marvelous despite no rehearsal. He filled in just the right places, adding flourishes to underline lyrics, always playing creative solos. This adaptability demonstrates how musicians familiar with jazz standards and the Great American Songbook speak a common languagejust give a downbeat, and they're off. (By the way Evans was stellar in his own earlier trio set.)
Many looked forward to the jams after hours around the Lido Pool, where were always surprises. A leader was slated for each night, but no one knew who else would show. On Miller and Friends night several fans got so carried away they jumped into the pool with their clothes on. Another night, there was a Pa-JAM-A Party hosted by the New Birth Brass Band, a Mardi Gras on the sea.
A big plus for these cruises is that fans get a chance to socialize with musicians. They see them in halls and elevators, everywhere. In the Lido Dining Room. For example, after Miller's very articulate discussion explaining the solos on Miles Davis' famous 1959 Kind of Blue album, I ran into him in the Lido, where we discussed the somewhat esoteric point about the importance in a solo of the pause and the note not played. And while having a drink around the pool, I talked with New Birth Jazz Band's trumpeter Kenneth Terry about the experiences members of his New Orleans-based band have had while also playing with the legendary Preservation Hall Band. Where else would a fan have these opportunities?
CRUISING ON THE WESTERDAM