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Kenny G At The Rocksino

December 5th, 2018

When I was in film school I enrolled in a class entitled "World War II and Hollywood." We watched and did a scholarly dissection of Meet Me in St. Louis, the Judy Garland/Vincent Minnelli musical, as a fine example of the film blanc movement that existed towards the end of the war.  My professor and mentor, Jack Nachbar, made a statement in defense of the art form:  "If you don't like musicals, there's something profoundly wrong with you."

I've never forgotten that sentiment and would say the same principle applies to Kenny G, who gave a fantastic performance tonight at Northfield's Hard Rock Rocksino.  Having graced the airwaves of hundreds of Smooth Jazz radio stations since the mid-1980s, the musician born as Kenneth Bruce Gorelick is at the tail-end of four decades in the public eye.  His playing is internationally recognized and not easily-imitated.  I was in Cuba two weeks ago and, believe it or not, Havana was no stranger to his music; I heard it in taxi cabs and adapted by street corner Son musicians to fit into the island's particular salsa beat.  (Ironically, I didn't hear his hit tune "Havana" anywhere in Havana.)

Backed by a smart five-piece band, the sax man brought their Miracles Holiday and Hits tour to the Northfield venue. Playing for nearly two hours, the show offered a handful of his most popular Christmas covers, culled from three holiday albums he's cut over the last thirty years or so.  Interspersed with his most well-known hits, tunes such as "Forever in Love" and "Songbird" entranced the Rocksino crowd.

Introducing the band, Gorelick mentioned that his piano player, Robert Damper, is a friend from his high school days and they've been playing together since the mid-1970s.  Using that as a theme, he showed off his soprano sax, saying that he's had that particular instrument since his band camp days.  He told the audience, while cradling his beloved horn, that it's "the longest relationship of his life."  Giving the crowd some relationship advice, he interjected that if "you blow something for forty years, chances are you'll stay together." 

Entering the venue from its rear, Gorelick walked up the stage left aisle and stood on a platform where he offered a pair of tunes, "Going Home" and "Silhouette."  He demonstrated his "circular breathing" method of playing while holding a sustained note for several minutes; the audience was, understandably, captivated.  In a moment of levity, an audience member seated right in front of the platform, and eye level with his crotch, informed him that his zipper was down.  Without missing a beat (or a note) the sax man zipped up his fly, fist-bumped the patron, and got back to business. 

In an evening chock full of great songs, an extended performance of "Havana" brought the crowd to its feet.  Followed up by "Forever in Love," a perennial favorite, the band then kicked into "Desafinado," a bossa nova standard made popular by Stan Getz and Charlie Parker.  After an incredible extended piano solo by Damper on the bossa nova masterpiece, some Christmas classics were offered up as mid-set nostalgia.  One of the things that I really enjoy about the perfect tone of Gorelick's playing is that the songs you hear live have the same consistent quality as those on the recordings.  At sixty-two years old, his playing is still top-notch; when many musicians start slowing down at that age, Kenny G is still displaying the same exact pitch and tonal qualities as he did when he was in his late twenties.

A much-touted raffle for a Kenny G-branded saxophone was saved for the end of the show.  Audience members were able to purchase tickets prior to entering the venue for a ticket to be drawn.  An older couple won the instrument, were called onstage to claim it, and then serenaded by the band.  Standing next to the seated couple, he played "Innocence" for them from the 1996 album The Moment. The older man, overcome with emotion, visibly cried, trying to hold back his tears.  It was a beautiful moment, really, no matter how corny it may seem. But that's the beauty of music; the nostalgia factor and, on a more base level, the beauty that horn creates seemed to be enough to create a genuine moment for that particular patron. While some critics may not give "Smooth Jazz" the credit the form deserves, hardly a person in attendance tonight would agree with them. Yeah, Miles Davis, Bird, Monk, and the like have their place in our popular cultural pantheon, but Gorelick and his contemporaries have also cemented their place in American popular music. I, for one, would be first in line if a Chris Botti/Kenny G tour could be set up; can you imagine the smoothness of those two horns, competing for our undivided attention?

There were two songs that were cut from the set list perhaps due to time restrictions or the fact that the band was heading to eastern Pennsylvania and didn't want to get caught in inclement weather, but "Sleigh Ride" and "My Heart Will Go On," from the 1997 film Titanic were missing from tonight's set.

Exiting with "Cadenza" and "Songbird," this year's version of Kenny G's holiday concert came to a close.  

As patrons meandered out of the venue, the diminutive horn player waited in the lobby to sign their CDs and pose for photos with them.  The line snaked from two directions, converging at a table where Gorelick stood, sharpie in one hand and a holiday CD in the other.  What a wonderful way to send them off into the crisp night air: Smiles on their faces and merch in their purses.

Review by Brian M. Lumley

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