Gil Parris & Friends
7/09/04 7:00-9:00pm
Ashford Park
Ardsley, N.Y.

Concert review by Roger-Z (7/10/04)

I've been trying -- no -- dying to catch a Gil Parris concert for the past month. His latest CD, "Jam This," monopolizes my stereo. But something always manages to get in the way. I almost went into the city July 7 to see a Gil double header -- first at Trump Patio and then at The Triple Inn. But I wimped out. Didn't feel comfortable taking the train in by myself.

Out of nowhere, the perfect opportunity presented itself, via an email from Gil announcing an outdoor performance at Ashford Park in Ardsley, N.Y. -- just 20 minutes from where I live. I'd take my son and we'd have a picnic. Of course, I forgot to pack my lawn chair or any food, but nothing can break the spell of this perfect evening. A friend gave me excellent directions, and I arrived to find that the park has comfortable benches, a food concession, and a working bathroom.

The band begins to play and the sound shimmers as crystalline perfect as the 70-degree, sunny weather. The personnel included Pete Levin (keyboards), long-time partner Kip Sophos (bass), Rudy Feinauer (drums), and Kenny Venezia (alto sax). The musicianship dazzled. From straight-ahead jazz, to funk, blues, ballads, and even mambo, nothing fazed them. For example, "The Flintstones." That's right. The television theme song. They performed a swing version, featuring a walking bass solo, that mesmerized the crowd.

Gil plays "in the zone." Whether it's jazz or rock, he long ago mastered the art of building a solo. Melodies and dynamics play a key role along with an extensive bag of tricks. Gil keeps it fresh by mixing single notes, double stops, chord chunks, and various electronic effects such as wahwah and delay. Highpoints of the evening included "Duck Walk" from his latest album, Jam This, and "It's A Lie," from his earlier eponymous CD on RCA. Gil penned both tunes. I dig them because I love Jeff Beck.

Gil does not sing. That's OK. Tommy MacDonald and Curtis Winchester handle the vocals just fine. When Tommy wraps his husky baritone around the blues classic, "I'm Doing Just Fine," you're utterly convinced. When Curtis sings, "Use me 'til you use me up," you know the man delivers. And when they team as in "Got My Mojo Working," girls, you better watch out!

Gil wields a secret weapon -- bassist Kip Sophos. Soloing becomes a snap when you surf a groove about a mile wide. Kip drives the band. Using both thumb and fingers, he caresses the neck of his monstrous six-string bass like a devoted lover. And with rock-solid Rudy Feinauer on drums, no soloist can escape the riptide they create. Both sizzle this night. Their mothers are listening! Nothing like having your parents there to bring out a great performance.

Keyboardist Pete Levin reminds me of the sticky caramel found inside the best chocolates. He adds the bluesy, greasy, sticky feel that holds the music together. At one point, my son turns to me and says, "I can hear everything perfectly except the piano." I say, "Listen carefully." "Oh, now I hear it." I love a musician who understands the art of accompaniment. When Pete solos, the band gets a needed dose of rock 'n' roll boogie.

The first set was devoted to alto sax player Kenny Venezia. He had to leave to play another show. It makes me so jealous when musicians work two gigs a night! Tone. Tone and taste. It doesn't matter what type of music he performs. Kenny can play the phone book and I'd listen!

What a great night. The weather, food, crowd, comfy benches, and, oh yeah, the music, all conspired to produce a perfect evening.

2004 Roger-Z