4. Percussion Solo
6. You're Beautiful
7. Forever in Love
8. Rhythm and Romance
10. Besame Mucho
11. What a Wonderful World
12. Pick up the Pieces
13. Bass Solo
Introducing the show
Deck the Halls
Twelve Days of Christmas
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Kenny G - Alto, soprano and tenor saxes
Robert Damper - Piano, keyboards
Ron Powell - Percussion
Daniel Bejarano - Drums
John Raymond - Guitar
Vail Johnson - Bass
Joe Gransden - Trumpet (track 12)
This is a DVD of a 2008 concert which was part of a tour to promote
Kenny G's CD Rhythm and Romance, which
I have already reviewed. As I noted in that review, Kenny G seems
to arouse adulation and loathing in equal measure. This DVD may give
some clues about the reasons for criticising Kenny, as he starts the
concert by strolling through the ecstatic audience playing his alto
saxophone. Then he mounts a small podium in front of the band, where
he continues playing for a while before joining the other guys on
stage. On Silhouette, he holds one note for so long that it
sounds like a siren - and he keeps on playing it as he strolls back
through the audience, shaking some of them by the hand. It's
all very show-biz, but not quite what you expect from a jazz musician.
However, apart from such showy touches, I can't fault Kenny G's playing.
He comes across as a masterly technician on three different saxophones.
Certainly he has a tendency to parade his technique. This is particularly
noticeable in Cadenza, where he plays unaccompanied, rhapsodising
floridly. A caption on the screen at the back of the stage truthfully
states that this is "Kenny's chance to show off 41 years of practice".
The practice has paid off in his often impressive soloing and the
long, decorative codas he improvises to several tunes. Yet this is
not his only strength. He also plays very lyrically and melodically.
Too many jazz players forget that audiences want (perhaps need?) melodies.
You might dismiss him as a more commercial version of Dave Sanborn,
but you can understand his popularity.
The DVD differs somewhat from the CD, which was shorter (the DVD
lasts more than two hours) and devoted to Latin-American rhythms.
On the DVD, the Latin numbers are interspersed with other pieces -
including such popular songs as James Blunt's You're Beautiful
and Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World (with Kenny accompanying
Louis's recorded voice). But there are plenty of Latin rhythms, especially
from Ron Powell, who shows off his skills on Percussion Solo
(although this, again, verges on showbiz when he plays a tambourine
dexterously and then juggles with it!). Drummer Daniel Bejarano is
equally adept and he joins in for part of the percussion feature.
In fact all the musicians in Kenny G's band are first-rate - and all
are featured on one tune or another. There is also jazz-rock in the
shape of Pick up the Pieces, with Kenny on tenor sax and Joe
Gransden guesting on trumpet to reproduce the sound of the
Average White Band's 1975 hit.
The "bonus features" include some interviews with Kenny
G in which he convincingly establishes his jazz background, although
he unashamedly calls his music "smooth jazz" and his early
work included spells with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and
five years with Jeff Lorber. His jazz credentials are backed up by
the other bonus feature: a medley of four Christmas carols including
a marching Deck the Halls and a swinging Santa Claus is
Coming to Town, on which Kenny's well-built tenor solo proves
that he's a fine jazz improviser as well as a master of dynamics.
I can understand the criticisms of Kenny G, but I don't share most
of them. If you want to know why so many people love his music, listen
to Songbird at the end of this concert. It was Kenny's first
big hit and it has a rapturously romantic melody which should melt
a few hearts - even my own hard heart.