Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire have almost as much silver (in their hair) as they do brass, but have managed to remain loyal to their jazz-soul fusion roots. Their fans, in turn, have remained loyal and made their current tour one of the most popular in the country.
From the very start, with both bands collaborating on Chicago’s “Beginnings” and EWF’s “In the Stone,” it was obvious this was going to be more than just a simple concert before 5,202 fans. While the members of Chicago retired backstage for a breather, EWF stepped into the foreground. While the costumes have toned down somewhat (bassist Verdine White still favors the band’s trademark flashy fashions), little else has changed. Vocalist Philip Bailey’s vocal gymnastics, particularly on “Reasons,” are still a thing of wonder, hitting notes high enough to reach even the farthest recesses of the arena.
Chicago’s Bill Champlin joined EWF onstage to sing lead on “After The Love Has Gone,” which he wrote with composer David Foster. Bailey repaid the favor during Chicago’s set with a take on “If You Leave Me Now” that more than made up for the absence of former vocalist Peter Cetera.
Known in its earliest days for its lengthy “concerto” songs, Chicago kicked off its music with the classic “Ballet for a Girl From Buchannon,” which featured “Make Me Smile” followed by “Colour My World,” the song that launched a million high-school proms. Veterans Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Walt Parazaider (saxophone and flute) were joined by trombonist Nick Lane, who more than capably filled in for the missing-in-action James Pankow.
Guitarist Keith Howland, who was only 5 the year the band released its debut album, displayed ample mettle during blistering versions of “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away.” The two bands, 20 members in all, then took the stage for a finale that included sinewy samples of hits by both groups, including EWF’s “September” and Chicago’s “Free.”
— By Tim Taylor
n The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and cellist Matt Haimovitz dazzled the Sunday afternoon audience at Robinson Center Music Hall with another stellar Masterworks performance.
It was another a growing list of fine collaborations between the two. Last year, Haimovitz joined the ASO, violinist Giora Schmidt and pianist Rohan De Silva (a last-minute replacement for an ailing Navah Perlman) for a skillful reading of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56.”
This year, Haimovitz and the ASO squared off over Samuel Barber’s “Cello Concerto, Op. 22,” a 20th century American piece commissioned in 1945 and intended for soloist Raya Garbousova, who collaborated with Barber while he composed it.
Conductor David Itkin’s orchestra as usual proved up to the task, but the young Haimovitz’s charm and vigor carried the day. During the last few years, Haimovitz has been lauded for making classical music more accessible to a wider audiences, particularly with his Bach “Listening Room” Tour, for which he performs some of the composer’s great suites in coffeehouses and clubs throughout the country, including the Living Room in Hillcrest last Thursday. Haimovitz even played New York City’s infamous CBGB club, the birthplace of punk.
From his performance Sunday, it was easy to remember why Haimovitz has been such a sought-after talent. During the first movement, the “Allegro moderato,” Haimovitz displayed the quiet intensity of man who had given himself completely to the music, his head bobbing and weaving with the music even when he wasn’t playing. The movement ended with Haimovitz charging into an amazing cadenza, punctuating the piece’s main themes.
The soloist showed great virtuousity, performing the second movement’s deep, ponderous lines and the third and finale movement’s more passionate, explosive solos with equal skill.
— By Lance Turner
The three E’s
n Not only does Norah Jones move through a concert with an exquisite elegance, she does it with such effortlessness — the hands deftly fingering the keys of her grand piano (as a tiny camera conveyed on two large screens on either side of the stage), her words rising from her throat with little apparent force.
The jazz-pop-country chanteuse, who has almost singlehandedly made legendary Blue Note Records a name again with her Grammy haul last year, offered up most of her two-album repertoire of enjoyable and mostly laid-back songs. But when the mood called for stepping out some, she did that, away from the piano to sing her big hit “Don’t Know Why,” or simply moving sidestage with her backup singer, Daru Oda, and swaying and stepping in her turquoise skirt and a black top elegantly (there’s that word again) draped over her shoulders.
We contend her voice may have sounded better in person than on her records; maybe it was being able to see her larger than life on the big screens, which took our attention away from the real thing going on on stage. Her Handsome Band, four players and backup singer, was exceptional.
And, before 5,147 fans, reportedly the most on her current tour, Jones crowd-pleased with the best of them, chatting up the fans — though there were times we wished she’d forgo the smoky bar-style piano playing and shake it up a little bit on the keys, as her band did a couple of times, particularly on the closing “Ooo, Las Vegas,” by Gram Parsons. She showed an affinity for Parsons, Tom Waits, and others of that genre, but of the songs we liked best, one came from yesteryear: Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” Also, she admitted a tear came to her eye on the moving “Humble Me.” Us, too, Norah.
— By Jim Harris