The Mike Frost Band was a pleasant surprise at the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s January 14 concert in Port Charlotte, stepping boldly into more contemporary genres while also digging deep into the mainstream jazz canon.This was the Aiken, South Carolina-based group’s first appearance in Port Charlotte – and in Florida, for that matter. The unit featured leader Mike Frost on 4- and 5-string electric basses; Lauren Meccia on alto and saxophones, wind synthesizer and vocals; Shannon Pinckney on piano and electric keyboard; and Ron Green on drums.
The quartet skillfully blended jazz and the jazz sensibility with a bit of Latin, some pop classics and even a taste of rhythm & blues. The result underscored that fact that jazz is a musical process, not a specific repertoire. It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it. Their polished blend of contemporary jazz and updates of some familiar classics worked well – because the players delivered the goods.
The standards scattered throughout their two sets included “That Old Black Magic,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” How High the Moon,” “Night and Day” and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,’ which became the Dave Brubeck quartet’s signature tune. There were a few more modern jazz pieces: Chick Corea’s exotic “Spain” and a Herbie Hancock medley featuring “Cantaloupe Island” and “Watermelon Man.”
The other material, equally strong, brought more surprises in this concert setting.
Here are some examples:
- Their take on Michel LeGrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” inspired by a David Sanborn-Randy Crawford collaboration, featured Meccia on soprano sax and vocals. Her instrumental tone and soulfulness on this song and most others, revealed a deep influence by the late saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. That is not a bad thing.
- The band’s version of “Come Away With Me,” a mega-hit for Norah Jones, showcased Frost’s serious chops on his electric basses. His soloing, and his cushion beneath Meccia’s vocals, became conversational bass lines.
- Frost had much the same impact on the Beatles hit “Blackbird,” his bass almost singing along behind Meccia’s vocals and her solo on her EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), a saxophone-like synthesizer that the late Michael Brecker brought into jazz in 1987.
- Meccia’s vocals on “Songbird,” written by Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie but popularized through an Eva Cassidy posthumous release, were both soaring and beautiful.
The band also dug into the 1960s Bobby Hebb pop hit, “Sunny,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Dave Stewart’s “Lily Was Here” (which he recorded in 1990 with contemporary jazz saxophonist Candy Dulfer), and Earth Wind & Fire’s “Getaway.”
The crowd dug the night’s fusion with enthusiasm, clamoring for more at the end, and then entreating the band members to come back soon. The concert, drawing a crowd of nearly 300, was at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's WIlliam H. Wakeman III Theater.