Jazz and R&B heavyweights come together for “special show”
By Charles Hallman
Last week was the first time I attended a Dakota Jazz Club late show.
Several patrons that attended the earlier Jeff Lorber, Everette Harp, Shawn LaBelle, and Stokley Williams set on August 28 told me that I wouldn’t be disappointed. They weren’t wrong.
Billed as “a special show featuring four of the biggest names in contemporary jazz and R&B,” the four veteran artists easily could have done a solo performance at the downtown Minneapolis club, but as a quartet, they nonetheless rocked the house.
LaBelle, who plays keyboards and bass, assembled the quartet: “It means a lot to have all these guys come in. There were some points [during the stint] that I would get teary… in my own backyard — I have friends
and family here. That’s pretty cool and amazing,” the Golden Valley native told the MSR afterwards.
He has worked with Harp for nearly 25 years “and with Jeff for 30 years,” LaBelle pointed out. “It’s pretty neat that a kid [can come] from Golden Valley and end up in L.A. with all these guys. They are my best friends — not only are they musicians I work with but they are my family. We are all brothers.”
The eight-song set started with a burning sax solo by Harp on the title track of LaBelle’s Desert Nights album, with Lorber later sliding in on keyboards, then Williams finished the title track with scat vocals. Then in introducing perhaps his signature song, “Rain Dance” (1979), Lorber told the audience how it has been twice-sampled, once by Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You” and SWV’s “Love Like This.” Then he and Harp performed a musical duel, trading licks interchangeably like both of them cruising down an open highway.
The keyboardist also played the title cut from his latest Hacienda album released late last month. A fast-tempo tune with an uptown feel to it, Lorber allowed Harp and LaBelle to take center stage, while he stayed in the background.
Harp performed two covers: a rarely-played but classic nonetheless Stevie Wonder tune from the 1970s, “Where Were You When I Needed You” and “What’s Going On,” the title cut from his 1997 Blue Note album. He also played “All Jazzed Up (And Nowhere to Go)” that Harp admitted is a tribute to his late father, a stop-to-start, slow melodic rhythm that featured Lorber on solo.
Williams, a St. Paul Central High School graduate who has been with Mint Condition for over two decades, sounded like Al Jarreau on the Wonder tune, and the late Donny Hathaway on the Gaye groundbreaking classic on his two solo vocals opportunities. Otherwise, he kept the quartet in step on drums.
A local newspaper’s recent headline labeled Lorber a “smooth jazz pioneer,” which I cringed at because the soft music format mostly is tailored for yuppies, wrongly tagging artists such as Lorber, who I first heard on the late, great radio station WJZZ in Detroit — once America’s highest rated jazz station. Rather he deserved credit for his part in merging traditional jazz with rock, R&B and funk since he founded The Jeff Lorber Fusion in the late 1970s in his Portland, Oregon hometown.
During their set, Lorber briefly bemoaned about the scarcity today of jazz stations nationwide. The MSR asked him after the concert to elaborate: “It’s disappointing but you have to accept reality as it is,” he surmised.
Harp, whose musical influences include gospel, Grover Washington, Jr., Hank Crawford and Stanley Turrentine, has shown for over 15 years that he’s more than a jazz sax player. He has worked with the likes of Kenny Loggins, Neil Diamond and Billy Joel, as well as Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Al Jarreau and Luther Vandross.
“This is nothing new,” added Harp on jazz’s presence today. He pointed out that the genre’s target audience often fluctuates upwards. “Now it’s around [age] 35-40 and older. The younger crowd eventually will get older and they usually migrate to [jazz].”
He and Lorber have been touring together for a couple of years. “That’s not something we worry about,” Harp responded when asked on the two greats not stepping on each other’s toes, musically speaking.
“I’ve been blessed,” admitted LaBelle, who’s working on a new CD that is expected to be out this fall. “I have worked with some of the most amazing musicians in the world for the last 25 years — Ray Charles, George Duke… the list is endless. All the guys I grew up idolizing as a kid, I ended up working with.”
The quartet’s Dakota performance — as the first-set patrons testified — left those of us who attended the final one very satisfied. Many lingered afterwards and met the artists, briefly chatting with them.
“I just love to come here [to the Dakota]. It’s a great jazz club,” said Lorber. “I can’t wait to come back.”
“The room has been wonderful,” concluded Harp.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].