09/08/12 By Marjorie Savoie
Gerald Albright, Elan Trotman, and Mike Rollins
Sax Beneath The Stars, at The Pearl Restaurant in Providence, RI
Photography by Kimberly Deprey
The Pearl Restaurant, in Providence, RI, has raised the bar for excellence in East Coast Jazz venues. Magnificent décor, ambient lighting, crystal clear acoustics, outstanding customer service, and a brilliantly crafted floor plan comprise the perfect setting for Jazz events, as well as comfortable, intimate seating for any occasion.
Mike Rollins and Company kicked off the night with, “Never Too Much,” by the late, great Luther Vandross. Rollins and his band are solid players, with refreshing arrangements and a unified sound. Rollins has a nice technique on sax, and his tone seemed to improve as his set progressed. The titles for the second and third tunes were never announced, but the second tune was was slow and sultry, with an interesting and unpredictable chord progression. The bass locked in with the sax on melody, which gave a nice effect. The third and final tune was more upbeat and funky, and the rhythm section was pretty tight. It’s unfortunate that none of the players were introduced, because they all did a great job.
There are several things that Rollins could do to take himself and his band from good to great. A more memorable entrance, eye contact with the audience, and light-hearted interaction between himself and his band may very well take him to the next level. Most importantly, he needs to be mindful of introducing his band members as well as the title of the tunes he plays, preferably more than once. His quiet demeanor gives the impression that he’s a humble man who is more focused on delivering a great performance than making a name for himself. But it’s important to provide this kind of information to the audience, so that they will remember the names of instrumentalists and songs they have enjoyed when it comes time to purchase tickets and CD’s.
Next up was the Elan Trotman Band, with Tyrone Chase on guitar, Mark Copeland on keys, Alex Bailey on bass, and Anthony Steele on drums. If there had been an award for best entrance, they most certainly would have won it! As LMFAO’s, “Party Rock Anthem” began to play, instant excitement was generated, and the audience began to turn and look around for Elan Trotman. He hit the stage in a burst of energy, pumping up the crowd, and then delivering his first note with power and clarity. The band was off the hook! It was a fantastic opening; Pro all the way!
Trotman followed with his original tune, “Little Too Late”, from his album, “This Time Around”. Nice phrasing and dynamics on this tune; they built it up, and then brought it down again, with Mark Copeland soloing beautifully on keys.
Without a doubt, the highlight of Trotman’s set was his tribute to, Earth Wind and Fire. The arrangements were true to style, yet fresh, making use of breaks and rim shots to accentuate sections, as is so distinctive in EWF’s music. The audience sang their hearts out!
Next was an original tune entitled, “Rain” from Trotman’s, “Love and Sax” CD. Tyrone Chase did a sultry guitar solo, and there was a nice exchange between guitar and sax. From here they moved into “Lovely Day”, originally recorded by Bill Withers, followed by Trotman’s own, “100 Degrees”. This tune features and all band freeze, which is great fun for the audience. Drummer Anthony Steele added some great humor, stretching, and taking a sip from his water bottle before resuming the groove and unfreezing the band, amid cheers and screams. Trotman also came down off the stage and played directly to the audience during these tunes, with his performance culminating in a mind-blowing display of circular breathing; sustaining a note for what seemed an eternity, while his tone remained rich and vibrant throughout its duration. Needless to say, the audience was astounded, and demonstrated their respect with a standing ovation.
Of course, the party had only just begun, because Gerald Albright was still on deck! Trotman’s band would return to play support for him, following a brief intermission.
In Gerald Albright’s case, despite the stellar performance that preceded him, no grand entrance was necessary. He was well known to his audience, and his only objective was to connect with them. Humor and dialogue flow very easily for this seasoned professional, and he has a way of making the most upscale venue feel like a casual gathering in his living room.
Unlike most artists, who tour with the objective of promoting a new CD, Albright seems more focused on the journey than the destination. His new CD, a collaboration with Norman Brown entitled, “24/7”, has been a huge success, with the first single “In The Moment” having hit #1 on the Billboard Charts, so he really doesn’t need to do much promotion! His career spans twenty five years, and his fans have fallen in love with many number one singles since his first CD, “Just Between Us” debuted in 1987. Albright knows what his fans came for, and he never disappoints them by leaving out a favorite tune. This balanced approach to touring is what keeps audiences coming back for the perfect blend of memories and new inspiration.
Albright opened his show with a tune called, “Highway 70”, from his 2010 release, “Pushing The Envelope”. Inspired by sharp curves over mountainous terrain, this piece is fast moving and technically complex, with huge jumps back and forth between the lower and higher registers, yet Albright plays it as effortlessly as breathing.
Next he brought the tempo down, with, “Bermuda Nights”, enlisting the help of the audience on percussive finger snaps. This exotic, tropical tune features exquisite soloing, but what audiences seem to love most about it is the humor Gerald tosses into the mix. He has a way of playing with the audience, soaring into an intricate solo, only to suddenly surprise them with his signature, “PIP!” No matter how many times they’ve heard him do it, audiences can’t help but explode in a roar of laughter! If you’ve never seen him live, this may be difficult to envision. Check out a few of his live performance videos on Youtube, or better yet, book a ticket to see him in person! Few instrumentalists are able to engage an audience as effectively, generating humor without words.
Albright gave his fans just a small taste of his new project, launching into his funky and innovative rendition of, “Close To You” by The Carpenters. He demonstrated some of the most brilliant use of dynamics and humor I’ve ever witnessed during this tune, playing full out at one moment, and then bringing it all the way down to mere breath sounds, with just a faint, “ticka-ticka” sound eminating from the keypads. Throughout this silent solo, he plays with all the same passionate facial expressions as if he were blowing full volume. It’s priceless, and audiences love it!
He followed this with two of his biggest hits, “So Amazing” (Luther Vandross), and “My My My”, (Johnny Gill), featuring a rousing performance from his audience choir. As always, his phrasing was thoughtful and expressive, and his tone exquisite.
Next was, “Champagne Life”, from his new CD, “24/7”. Tyrone Chase did some great soloing on this tune. From there they transitioned into an unbelievably tight rendition of, “Impressions”, by John Coltrane. Albright graciously allowed each band member the opportunity to solo during this jam, introducing them by name and expressing appreciation for their presence on stage with him.
From here, he moved into one of the most compelling arrangements of, “Georgia On My Mind” which has ever been performed, ultimately transitioning into, “Before I Let Go” (originally recorded by Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly), which concluded amidst screams and cheers, as fans rose to their feet in appreciation.
The only disappointment I heard expressed by audience members around me was that they never had a chance to hear Gerald Albright and Elan Trotman play together. Promotional posters had described the event as, "featuring Gerald Albright with Elan Trotman, and opening act, Mike Rollins and CO". Trotman himself may have been hoping for this opportunity, as he never put his horns away until it was clear that the show was over. But, if he experienced any disappointment, he certainly didn’t let it show. He greeted his fans cheerfully, expressing lavish words of praise, both for Gerald Albright and for the members of his own team who had played support.
It was unfortunate that no room was made for Trotman at the signing table, but this didn’t seem to bother him, nor did it prevent fans from gathering around him, as he signed CD’s while standing. However, it should be noted that logistical details are quite often decided neither by the venue nor the artist, but by the terms of the artist's contract. Smooth Jazz fans in New England will keep the faith, and look forward to seeing young lions like Trotman and Rollins earn their places of honor alongside legends and childhood heroes.
Gerald Albright’s signing session was handled beautifully, as he took plenty of time to greet his fans with warm words and hugs; posing for pictures, and signing autographs. The spaciousness of the venue and the continuing dance party out in the courtyard facilitated a comfortable flow of fan traffic. This evening was a huge success, and I look forward to many more events at, The Pearl Restaurant, in Providence, RI.