B.B. King Blues Club, May 14, 2004:
I bring my wife Kathy to B.B. King’s to see, what I expect to be, a very special concert event. On tonight’s schedule is: Lenny White and Mike Clark’s New Brew. The band showcases an all-star ensemble of musicians including Stanley Clarke, among other major notables.
The afternoon is gorgeous, a break from the high heat and humidity of late. Our trip to Times Square, on the train, is smooth and uneventful. Upstairs, we get our waiting line ticket number 2 and proceed to Lucille’s, to relax before the show. We are so early, I wonder who is number 1 on line. In just a short while, I meet Ken and Adam. They are number 1. We hit it off immediately as Ken is a percussionist and Adam is a drummer. They play in a band together. They are both serious devotees of Mike Clark and Lenny White and the entire ensemble. They confirm my notion that this is a very historic concert event and will be a very, very special night indeed!
I am on the guest list +1 tonight, thanks to Rena Siwek. I also have a photo pass to make my review process that much easier. Nicole, who is warm and cheerful, serves us tonight. The food and service is top-shelf as always. Neal and his son Ben join us at our front-center table, just before show time. Neal is another funk-fusion devotee and his son, a rock fan, is in for the musical experience of a lifetime.
At 8:07 P.M. Lenny White takes the stage to set the scene and introduce all the amazing musicians: “these players are a lifetime’s musical peers, who rarely ever get the opportunity to perform together.” He again reaffirms the special nature of this musical event. Lenny White introduces the band: trumpet: Eddie Henderson, drums: Mike Clark, keyboards: George Colligan, guitar: Robben Ford, alto saxophone: Kenny Garrett, bass: Victor Bailey, standup bass: Stanley Clarke, turntable: DJ Logic and Lenny White on drums.
The show begins at 8:15 P.M. The musical form is spontaneous and flowing improvisation. Lenny starts with an upbeat 4/4 tempo, utilizing the reverse stick on the snare, for that snappy and succinct percussive quality. The euphonic feeling is upbeat, driving and unpredictable. All the musicians are carefully feeling out the groove and letting it all hang out. Eddie Henderson takes the first solo and his initial approach is in the Miles Davis tradition, ethereal and cerebral. Kenny Garrett continues with an outstanding alto solo. He begins with long sensual sustain notes that evolve into sparkling crescendos that are both rhythmically distinctive and musically challenging. Kenny displays creative contrast with slow interludes and spontaneously inspiring bursts of musical emotion. He exhibits honking, sharp and saucy tone, while effortlessly blending cut-time rhythm and soothing tonal change.
Mike Clark performs exquisite, tasteful and succinct brush technique!
Robben Ford is ‘comping’ delicately on his Gibson Les Paul. Stanley Clarke is on standup bass tonight and takes the band in a slightly different musical direction. His distinctively persuasive style is embraced by all. The ensemble exudes a gorgeous musical mood that fashions a vivid melodic mural. The band transitions from a sensual, slow and soothing presentation with Mike Clark on cymbal rolls, to a military march, then to a distinctive jazz-fusion feel, with Robben executing creatively wild guitar leads.
The second musical passage features Lenny White and Mike Clark showcasing the ‘fat’ percussive sound only two drummers can achieve. There is excellent interaction and a very creative answer/response passage between the two. The transition between musical presentations is not clearly defined and is really just a momentary interlude to let everyone catch their creative breath.
The band transitions through another subtle mood change into the third spontaneous composition. Lenny and Mike execute strong unison playing on the double drums. The sound is very Head Hunter-like. The music is exceedingly funky and distinctively percussive. Eddie Henderson takes an incredible trumpet solo. He whistles an amazing high note, to culminate the display of his incredible prowess on his horn. The two drummers solo as Stanley Clarke plays the bass with an intensely percussive attack. Then Stanley and DJ Logic perform a bass and turntable solo. The overall rhythm is a super funky 4/4 tempo, as the two drummers resume their impressive soloing. The rhythmic pulse is slow and the answer/response passage captivates the already mesmerized audience. All the pieces fit together perfectly! Robben takes an outstanding guitar solo. Eddie soars in a trumpet solo that develops the melody in a syncopated sensation.
The next composition begins with Stanley Clarke soloing on standup bass. Stanley’s nice subtle touch evolves to a punchy and percussive slap, with Lenny and Stanley joyfully speaking back and forth in musical expressiveness. Lenny displays an exceptional brush technique as Mike Clark is all over the cymbals with a marvelous blending technique. The audience is caressed with brushes, cymbals and percussive standup bass accents, in a very cohesive musical passage. There is a nice subtle touch to a spontaneous cut-time tempo change for creative contrast.
The rest of the ensemble has quietly exited during the last number. Both Lenny and Mike set the musical tone with powerful unison trap playing in a distinctive 4/4 tempo. The trio calls out to the others, “fellas!” The rhythmic pattern simmers in a solid, sexy, subtle and controlled groove. The trumpet solo is tastefully playful and a conceptually excellent choice of notes, with pronounced rhythmic sensitivity. Both drummers are cookin’ in a cool and slick rhythmic flow. Victor Bailey has been outstanding all evening. He now gets his chance to step up big-time. His solo is kickin’ and his chops are amazing. His playing is ferocious, utilizing purposeful off time, cut time and double time rhythms with absolutely flawless ease. Victor eloquently expresses the absolute obvious, “I’m bad!”
Robben Ford’s guitar solo starts out sly and cautious, with tasteful and creative use of space, and continues building to a spectacular crescendo of flourishes and incredible glissandos. There is a spectacular double drum solo. Mike Clark’s left-handed drum rolls are incredible. He also gets the chance to display his instrumental virtuosity in a masterfully crafted drum solo of his own. His playing is as much tasteful as magnificent and his stick control is heavenly. The band kicks back in slowly, calmly and restrained and restates the groove, which is totally cool. The audience wildly shows its appreciation at the end of this genius display of musicianship.
Lenny White introduces the next composition, entitled “Dark.” He comments further that, “this is a man’s band!” This musical mood is celestial, sensuous, magical, majestic and overwhelmingly emotional. George Colligan takes an amazing piano solo. If he was at all overshadowed tonight, he clearly displays his incredible musical talents with this tremendous piano solo. He effortlessly executes emotionally charged crescendos and slick glissandos after a contrastingly slow and rhythmically intriguing melodic development.
Kenny Garrett adds sparkling alto sax flourishes and lightning fast scale runs. Mike complements the ensemble with cymbal rolls, swooshes and rhythmically creative passages on his drum kit. This is a beautiful melodic painting with colorful expressions of musical creativity, unsurpassed in space and time. DJ Logic contributes significantly with his turntable technique. I have heard that at Berklee College of Music, there is a three-month waiting list for the turntable class. Clearly, after tonight’s stellar performance, I can easily understand why.
The double drummers explore the heavy 4/4 driving sound of the open hi-hats. The two horn players execute dissonant harmonic lines and the funk is strong and proudly annunciated. The music kicks in a style that can only be described as a confident strut! After a crisp musical stop, Robben takes a tastefully melodic guitar solo that showcases well timed flourishes, crescendos and slick scale runs, contrasting with well-timed use of rests for rhythmic space and emphasis.
There is a quiet musical mood swing, with subtle delivery and the reverse stick on the snare, to accentuate the succinct rhythmic attack. Stanley takes a stunning melodic bass solo that is both controlled and reserved. Although he is purposefully delicate in delivery, he still gets that big full sound. George Colligan performs a tremendous piano solo, both consonant then dissonant, with emotional rhythmic flourishes that are inspirational. The rhythm section is FAT! Victor Bailey takes a funky, FUNKY bass solo with some special effects that put a smile on every note. He plays with both hands on the fretboard to showcase his virtuoso soloist capabilities.
Lenny White introduces the last composition. He states that Mike Clark “is the most sampled drummer in hip-hop.” Both Lenny and Mike play that most familiar drum figure in perfect unison. The simultaneous execution of this familiar drum pattern drives home it’s timeless musical contribution to the funky style of the 70’s and its continued relevance and significance in today’s musical hip-hop style. The trumpet solo is spectacular with emotionally charged flourishes, crescendo and scale runs. The double drummers and the turntable are driving the distinctive percussive pattern home to the heart of the amazed audience. Lenny and Mike are playful in an answer/response form.
Kenny lurks behind in a rhythmically punchy and restrained melodic attack that turns into a fantastic flourish of maddening musical motion. He gets more and more syncopated with rhythmic variations, building and building to a dissonant crescendo of spontaneous emotion. The band is smokin’! Kenny’s alto is blazing. Both drummers play in unison to emphasize the strong rhythmic message. This is an extremely cohesive and heated musical development passage. Mike Clark takes a feature drum solo. His funky syncopation and virtuoso percussive performance talent is clearly demonstrated in his signature drum figure execution. Lenny White complements Mike’s tasteful percussive playing, in a fantastic culmination of genius musical expression.
Tonight’s show was exhaustingly amazing. I am out of breath with excitement. The look on Neal’s face says it all. This was an incredible musical event. The combination of talent and vast musical experience provided a concert that will never be over shadowed, or soon forgotten. Ken, Adam and Ed (bassist) are totally wiped out with this incredible musical bonanza. I promised Kathy that tonight would be a totally remarkable musical experience and I was completely one hundred percent correct!
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