LONG BEACH, CA-The 31st Long Beach Jazz Festival did what it was meant to do: make you feel good. The annual trek down by the seaside near the Queen Mary in downtown Long Beach was just as good as it has been in the past. Honestly, the big takeaway from the three-day event was that all the players seemed intent on incorporating fun as part of their performances.
The festival opened Friday with headliner and renowned world musician Jonathan Butler, closing the show out. Saturday, the second day of the festival was like going back to school and re-living the past with a bit of nostalgia in the midst as guitarist Doc Powell and sax man Everette Harp played alongside each other and brought a lot of energy to the stage.
Powell and Harp worked in conjunction of each other as they welcomed and complimented the spirited vocals of the lovely Chante Moore, who sounded as wonderful as she did when she first broke onto the music scene with her blockbuster hit album “Precious” way back in 1992. The sultry hitmaker performed some of her tunes (much to the delight of the audience) from that album that got the crowded revved up a bit.
When Moore busted out with “Love’s Taken Over,” her biggest smash single from “Precious,” that seemed to stir some romantic juices among some of her longtime and faithful fans. Like the soul songbird Denise Williams, Moore’s vocals seems to be right at home performing for the smooth jazz genre as she pleasantly belted out the classic “Free.”
Moore’s performance, if anything, is indicative that her place in the musical realm is at home in an intimate jazz setting where her mastery of falsetto acrobats of love songs will be fully appreciated. The power in Moore’s voice is as strong as it has ever been, cutting through the sweltering Long Beach heat like butter on sliced bread. It’s a wonder why Moore’s amazing vocal theatrics doesn’t get the love and attention it fully deserves.
As far as Powell and Harp, the two longtime smooth jazz musicians grooved along their set with knife-like precision and found the pulse of the Long Beach Jazz Festival crowd with their respective instruments and strummed the audience along with them on their joyous trip that included a couple of funk-tinged songs. The magic coming from Harp’s saxophone is the pulse-generated soulfulness that the Houston, Texas native illuminates with enough ease to make you melt in your boots.
Latin jazz master Poncho Sanchez wants you to do more than stay in your boots or shoes; he just wants you to move. Period. Following behind the coolness of Powell, Harp, and Moore, Sanchez shook things up with his Latin jazz ensemble getting people out of their seats. Day 3 of the Long Beach Jazz Festival brought out more smooth jazz heavy hitters, including Kirk Whalum, Keiko Matsui, and David Benoit, among others. Vocalist Randy Crawford and Stanley Clarke also performed.
The highlight on this day was getting to see Matsui on stage live. There are not enough superlatives to bestow on Matsui as a renowned artist. Her hour-long set as the event’s third act was exciting to watch and compelling. The thing about Matsui, known for exceptional piano skills, she is not the type of performer to stay hidden behind her musical instrument. Matsui is as good as any performer in working the crowd and engaging the audience into whatever she is playing for them.
For the veteran smooth jazz buff, besides the appreciation of the longtime stalwarts of the industry still maintaining and holding down the fort for a little while longer, a newbie on the scene almost stole the show. Just several years removed from graduate school, Jazmin Ghent is fast gaining recognition and reputation as one of those up and coming artists in smooth jazz. Named as the Smooth Jazz Network’s Best New Artist of 2017, Ghent put it down during her scheduled stint.
Collaborating with keyboardist Brian Simpson, Ghent and her saxophone, which looked like it is as big as she is, rocked the early session of the Long Beach Jazz Festival, going Aretha Franklin on one of the soul singer’s signature songs.