Concert review by Roger-Z (6/30/04)
The NY Blues & Jazz Society promotes the awareness and enjoyment of blues and jazz music. The organization periodically presents concerts, such as The Vivino Brothers Blues Band with Lou Soloff on June 29 at Birdland in Manhattan. Actually the Society first promoted the band at Birdland in May. The overwhelming response resulted in an immediate rebooking.
Although it bills itself as a "blues band," that definitely stretches the term. These guys are all accomplished jazz players. If you've ever watched Late Night With Conan O'Brien, then you've seen the Vivino Brothers (Jimmy on guitar, vocals and Jerry on sax, flute, clarinet and vocals) who are part of the Max Weinberg 7. The Vivino Brothers Blues Band includes Michael Merritt (standup bass), Sean Pelton (drums), Brian Charette (organ & piano), along with special guests Lew Soloff (trumpet), and Mike Fong (valve trombone).
Actually, I hadn't visited Manhattan in a number of years. My friend Suzanne helped figure out the train schedule and we arranged to meet at Grand Central Station. What a difference a couple of years makes. Times Square now looks like Japan! Full of huge video screens, national chain stores, and good clean family entertainment. Where did all the "adult entertainment" go? Oh well, I'm sure it just moved to another part of the city.
Birdland, located between 44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, pleasantly surprised me. An intimate room with great sound, Birdland's 220 seats enjoy an unobstructed view of the center stage. A bar off to the right also provides good views of the stage. The food tasted better than I expected. Suzanne ordered the avocado gazpacho soup which she absolutely adored and the roasted free-range chicken breast. Me, I snacked on the BBQ chicken wings, which dripped a tantalizing sauce. You know the old saying, "You can never be too rich or have too much BBQ sauce."
The band, sans Lou Soloff and Mike Wong, kicked off the first set at about 9:00 PM with "Caledonia." I couldn't keep my eyes off of Jimmy's guitar. Like a goddess beckoning me from heaven, I was drawn to her shimmering notes of molten gold. Jimmy is known as a Gibson guitar hound. I don't even know the name of the model he played. It had a semi-hollow body with a single cutaway. Even though I sat directly in front of Jimmy, his seated back was turned just far enough away so that I couldn't cop any riffs! Aaaggghhh!
Lou Soloff jumped on stage for the next tune, "Slippin' and a Slidin'." For the rest of the night, he just dazzled. I never realized how expressive the trumpet could be. With his assorted plungers and mutes, Lou soared to the most piercing highs and plummeted to the dirtiest low growls.
The group went funky next. Hats off to Mike on standup bass who maintained a tight groove without the usual electric bass thumb slapping.
Finally, they broke into some jazz. Mike Fong stepped on stage to complete the front line horn section of tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone. Great solos all around.
Next up, the band dedicated "Georgia" to the late Ray Charles. The tune started out as an instrumental but soon Jimmy added a very expressive vocal part.
For the final blues number, the band handed out toy blowers. Jerry would sing a line, and the audience would answer via their noise makers. Nothing like audience participation to raise the level of excitement.
That was the end of the first set. Rarely do I ever get to see so many talented musicians share the same stage. Sean on drums created an irresistible groove for each tune, both with his sticks and his bouncing body. The bass player, Mike, was right in the pocket in that simple way only a standup bass can accomplish. Brian provided a subtle piano texture while still allowing the music to breathe. And his right hand organ soloing locked the band up tight. Jimmy, of the golden-throated guitar, happily ventured from understatement to hyperactivity. Jerry emceed the show and provided a bounty of tasteful tenor solos.
The most satisfying moment of the night occurred during our walk back to Grand Central. Suzanne turned to me and said, "You know, I've never been a big fan of jazz. But when you get to hear it live, surrounded by all those instruments, it's thrilling." In that moment, I knew that the Society had accomplished its mission.