By Mark Lopez
Soulful Kenny G serenades guests at the Newport Performing Arts Theater
After the Coldplay concert that left Manila on a high, a more subdued segue to chill and speakeasy music is probably what we needed.
And who better to render that smooth jazz feeling than Kenneth Gorelick?
Yes, the Kenneth Gorelick of smooth jazz fame, or more popularly known to us as Kenny G, was in town for a two-day music chillfest.
And so we made our pilgrimage last Thursday at the Newport Performing Arts Theater to see and hear Kenny G, and expectedly the cavernous theater was sold out, mostly with our fellow baby boomers and Gen X crowd who have the closest affinity to the jazz artist and his music.
Now there is a certain paradox when it comes to a smooth jazz concert, as this is a music genre that is best relished in a gentle and soothing vibe. There was a palpable calm in the air and, initially, I wondered how this type of music and concert could elicit an electric interaction with its audience.
When the lights dimmed to signal the start, the wondering vanished instantly as Kenny G made his way through the middle aisle of the theater, immediately establishing rapport with us, and the first song aptly hit “Home.”
After which I felt some kind of anti-climactic feeling when he chose to play what was probably his most popular tune among Pinoys—“Silhouette.” It was toward the end of this song that I realized why it needed to be the second one, as this was where he showcased the record-breaking lung power that he literally and figuratively held. He went on a saxophone riff that lasted more than two minutes with a kind of showmanship that was signature Kenny G, blowing continuously while walking through the stage and the aisle, waving, winking, shaking hands, giving high five, and generally connecting with the crowd in his most unique language.
Yes, it was more than two minutes (I timed it)! To say that it was “breathtaking” is an understatement.
There were the other popular tunes, mostly from his SongBird album, but there were also the smartly-laden intermissions from the members of his band (to give him the needed breather). Percussionist Ron Powell performed a tambourine riff that was accompanied by carnival-style theatrics, which was one of the highlights of the evening. All the other band members had their moments: Vail Johnson at bass, Robert Damper at piano, John Raymond at guitar, and Daniel Bejarano at drums.
For his well-known duets, we were all wondering who would go up stage to provide the vocals. The answer came when Kenny G called Arnel Pineda and the two immediately worked the crowd with their beautiful rendition of Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and Louise Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Perhaps to address his critics who constantly pan his take on smooth jazz, Kenny G gave tribute to known saxophonist and bossa nova pioneer Stan Getz by playing “Desafinado.” He was quite taken aback but pleasantly surprised by the crowd reaction when most of the audience recognized the music. Oh yes Kenny, we know our music!
For his final piece, his version of the Titanic theme “My Heart will Go On” was an apt instrumental ending to a night where pure sound prevailed.
But even as it was the music that ruled the night, the artist in Kenny G made sure that there was a certain flair and splendor in his performance. He had a wondrous connect with the audience, where in one segment, he even went on to speak Tagalog. The stage lighting and layout also complemented the overall atmosphere of the evening, which I would describe as a night of “subdued exuberance.”
As an aside, I had a vantage point view of some tense, offstage moments when lead sound engineer Monty Monford was going bonkers in the soundboard control area over some very slight but nevertheless discernable sound distortion. The problematic distortion was intermittent, and I salute Mr. Monford for deftly handling the situation with on-the-spot adjustments and mixing.
Was there an encore? Of course!
And this was where he gave us “The Moment” where we all came to the conclusion that he was—still is—indeed an instrumental part of our music life.