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Montreux Jazz Journal 2015: Lenny Kravitz Enlists a Sweet Swiss Army

Montreux Jazz Journal 2015: Lenny Kravitz Enlists a Sweet Swiss Army
Phillip Woolever By

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Lenny Kravitz, Assorted Others
Auditorium Stravinski, various locations
Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux, Switzerland
June 13, 2015

Sometimes a performer's most primary appeal is obvious. In tonight's case that appeal was verified by a large percentage of fired-up females, wedged in for Lenny Kravitz's sweltering, sold-out set in the grand Auditorium Stravinski.

The enduringly fashionable Kravitz and his fans brought more progressive wardrobes than you'd normally see for typical Montreux attire, in a typically glamorous scene along glistening sunset shades of a turquoise Lake Geneva. The four thousand in attendance got what was, by usual arena standards, a relatively intimate show.

"Montreux is such an amazing institution, thank you for having us," smiled Kravitz as he blasted into seven-chord rock. His excellent, 10-piece backup group played like an ensemble that meant to further secure their sterling, if less than groundbreaking, reputation.

A classic concert performance on a major stage isn't only about an artist's musical or compositional skills. If vocal talent or playing an instrument were all it takes, some acts between the large auditorium, free park or competition shows might have justifiably switched locations and billing.

Other important factors like image, creativity, charisma, and often, sex appeal come into play when determining what acts will sell tickets. Whatever Kravitz's formula is, it apparently works very well.

With confident control of all the aforementioned qualities, and in abundance, Kravitz charged out and delivered a surprising, greatest hits set that ranks with the best in recent Montreux history. Since Kravitz probably could have garnished acclaim just for showing up and looking cool, his contagious energy was even more impressive.

The opening "Frankenstein" kicked off an inspired, communal high that rarely wavered. The band barreled seamlessly into a slightly modified "American Woman" that strutted along an effectively slowed bombardment of triple bass beats.

Kravitz hit some tasty leads but mainly played rhythm, with front and center solo support from his longtime colleague, ace guitarist Craig Ross. Along with masterful Cindy Blackman-Santana on thunder sticks, there was plenty of star power in the band. Kravitz gave an example of what showmanship is all about as he bonded with the swaying swarm.

"It Ain't Over Til It's Over" sounded like a metallic Motown anthem as Kravitz crooned old school soul with the best of them. Near the front of the stage, hundreds were squashed into an irresistible, sardine can-type dance as people squeezed through the door for just a peek at the party. The floor was hot and tight but nobody seemed to mind the immoveable mass, at least until they wanted room to breathe.

Somewhat overwhelmed volunteer ushers abandoned the futile mission of enforcing recording restrictions amidst hydra-like phone cameras to focus on more crucial matters, like assisting the few children or seniors starting to succumb to the steam box conditions.

Electric ax was tonight's weapon of choice, but many moments of this dance party featured horn as the primary instrument. For credit where credit is due, it should be noted that Kravitz's supporting brass crew (Ludovic Louis on trumpet, Michael Sherman and Harold Todd on Saxophones), an enduring staple of his act; got a more pumped up response from the crowd than some better known horn sections have on the same iconic stage, over the years.

Of course, it didn't hurt the brass's cause that their approximately fifteen to twenty minutes of horn solos were sandwiched between barn burners like "Dancin' Till Dawn" and "I Belong to You," choreographed before a happily writhing crowd full of ladies loving Lenny.

During the ballad "Sister," a pair of gals at stage left perused their electronic gallery of nude men, between snapping selfies with Kravitz in the background. Thus, benefits of technology were further expanded. Hunger games, indeed.

One grey gentleman was heard to mumble, seriously, what sounded like "He's the devil," probably after he watched his date melt in a way he'd never seen before.

When Kravitz took a long, well-practiced Hey Jude-type stroll into the back of the auditorium on "Let Love Rule" it was one of many non-beefy highlights. The entire crowd seemed to sing along, while official backing vocalists Erike Jerry, Jessica Wagner-Cowan and Yahzarah Tony St. James provided icing on the cake of chords.

Gail Ann Dorsey (bass) and Georges Laks (keys) filled out the first rate crew.

There was another nice, personal touch when Kravitz introduced the band by first name only at the finale of the two-hour extravaganza. Everyone got a last chance to stretch out on a jam-extended "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

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