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Playboy Jazz Cruise: Galaxy of Greats Shine On Caribbean

Larry Taylor By

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Playboy Jazz Cruise
Holland America's Westerdam
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
January 25-February 1, 2009



An eclectic group of stars—Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Keb' Mo,' James Carter, Poncho Sanchez, Herbie Hancock—brightly shone during the recent Playboy Jazz Cruise on Holland America's Westerdam, out of Fort Lauderdale into the Caribbean. But it was host Marcus Miller who made the voyage an unqualified success—not only for his ingenious music but for the way he kept things running smoothly, seemingly always there for fans and fellow musicians.



During the cruise, there were jazz events at all times—headliner concerts nightly, 6:30 and 9 p.m., in the large Vista Lounge; later, shows in the Queen's Lounge theater and the intimate Ocean Bar. And jam sessions and party times around the pool on Lido Deck until after midnight.



Best of all, there were plenty opportunities to hear a favorite performer in multiple appearances. During mornings and afternoons, there were presentations on jazz history, Q & A sessions with musicians and Wine Hours, celebrating artist's latest CDs. Of course, cruising is for relaxing and, be assured, there was plenty of that on board and during port stops.



HIGHLIGHTS OF HEADLINE SHOWS



James Moody and Eldar got the cruise underway in a double bill, featuring the legendary veteran and one of jazz's young comers. At 80, Moody still shows the presence on tenor sax that made him a major factor in his long career. Making up his peerless quartet were Renee Rosnes on piano, a top-biller herself, the always smiling, unflappable bassist Matt Coolman and the intense, constantly pushing Adam Nussbaum on drums. Moody played classic standards, such as Benny Golson's "Stable Mates," along with contributing humorous vocals, on the immortal "Moody's Mood For Love" (based on a 1949 recorded Moody solo of "I'm in the Mood for Love") and the clever parody, "Benny's From Heaven." The crowd was pleased.



For his part, dynamic pianist Eldar displayed jaw-dropping technique as he creatively shaped favorites—a languidly beautiful rendition of "Besame Mucho" and a fast and furious take on Oscar Peterson's "Place St. Pierre." On the latter, he displayed a compendium of styles—from bop to stride. Midway in the set, Eldar introduced a selection of originals just recorded with his trio for upcoming release. On these, Armando Gola put down his up-right and picked up an electric bass, while Eldar went back and forth among keyboards, playing off one against the other, exploring new territory with dynamic drummer Ludwig Alonso as compass. A few mainstreamers walked out, but for most, it was a stimulating set, indeed.





Dianne Reeves' show emphasized her debt to Sarah Vaughan. In a tribute, she acknowledged: "My voice came through her." Reeves' rich, lush style was heard in songs from the delightful "A Social Call" to the dazzling "Windmills of My Mind" and on her warm interpretation of "Misty." Fans could see her throughout the week at an autograph session, a CD release party, an interview in the Vista and singing at Saturday morning's gospel show. She said this was her first jazz cruise, and she was loving it.



James Carter, carrying an armful of instruments on stage, proved his virtuoso status on woodwinds. With an organ trio, he began on soprano sax with an exciting, fast-paced version of Oscar Pettiford's "Tricrotism." He then transitioned to other winds, leading to a haunting flute solo on a jazz classic, "DoDo's Bounce." At the end his "Bossa J. C." had the audience up and shouting. He was greatly aided by Gerry Gibbs on organ and keyboards, always upping the ante. On synthesizer, Gibbs even sang along with himself a la Manhattan Transfer. Carter's jam appearances provided two of the cruises's most memorable moments. In the Ocean Bar he created a traffic jam as he played all-out on soprano. The sound carried throughout the floor and passers-by stopped to hear—clogging the halls. In another jam, Carter brought on two young sax players from the Miller band, Keith Anderson and Alex Hahn, and their admiration showed as they traded bars with their hero.



Poncho Sanchez, as usual, brought on a party atmosphere and soon had much of the audience dancing in the aisles. He began, however, showing his jazz chops, with the softly swinging "Night Walk," but soon warmed up the crowd with a salsa version of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." There were excellent solos along the way, especially by Sanchez on congas and Ron Blake on trumpet. Later, in a Poncho Sanchez Unplugged program in the Ocean Bar, the band took a more subtle approach, proving again that loud is not necessarily better.


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