Tuesday, January 20, 2015

IF IT'S JANUARY, IT'S PETER WHITE AT JAZZ ALLEY!

Several years ago, my friend Margaret graciously invited me to attend (and continue attending) an annual Peter White concert at Seattle's Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, just north of Downtown Seattle, accessed from the alley between 5th and 6th Avenues (2033 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121, (206) 441-9729). A loyal fan, Margaret, sometimes attends all 3 days of the gig--completely worth the investment of both time and money, dividends compounding.

The deeply-talented quintet is headed by guitarist-sublime, Peter White. In this year's  mid-January concert, the band adeptly played a blend of smooth jazz and rockin' oldies, narrated by Peter's serious/zany Brit banter. The tight quintet (formed for the Seattle gig--some players for many years, some new this year) played each song lengthily, often incorporating easily-recognized tunes, at least easily recognized by those of a certain age. During familiar oldies, Peter encouraged the audience to sing along. For their encore, the band played Pharrell Williams' "Happy," inviting the audience to "Get up and dance!"

Peter's breadth of experience and depth of musical knowledge glowed brightly as he played his nylon-stringed instrument, lovingly cradled and raucously swung. In his many albums, Peter adeptly spreads his wings to soar across soulfully beautiful melodies, often written about specific places and personal experiences. Since the early 1990s, Peter (then brown-haired and shaggy) has recorded 14 solo albums. Whimsical and warm, Peter's fans feel welcome to chat, get signatures on just about anything (although he declined my tongue-in-cheek request to sign my food take-out box), and pose for photo ops (got one!).

Michael Paulo, a sensual version of the Energizer Bunny, on saxophones, wailed while dance-walking his way though the concert, gaining every aerobic advantage. Michael flirts as well as he plays his horn, intensely in the moment, then strolling away with a secret, sweet, dual-dimpled smile. Michael plays a small (soprano?) sax as well as a larger (tenor?) sax, playing both with joyful abandon and excellent finesse, widely grinning the entire concert.

On keys, Gregg Karukas, ensconced and almost dwarfed behind a bank of two large keyboards, provided fluidity and harmony par excellence--also grinning though all tunes. This year, Gregg finally played a new solo--"finally," because last year, just for the irony of it all, I bet (and lost) that Gregg would play a new solo. Had I waited only one year, I would have had 6 more bucks in my pocket. The previous tried and true solo, "Girl in the Red Dress," was, of course, fabulous. This year, Gregg came front with his hand-held keyboard, proving that he too could dance while swinging a tune.

Dwayne "Smitty" Smith on bass was appropriately garbed in Seahawks hat and jersey (that afternoon, the Seattle Seahawks had won the NFC Championship Game: Seattle Seahawks 28, Green Bay Packers 22). Smitty seemed humble and hesitant as Peter introduced him and, later, as Peter encouraged a long and longer solo. Smith's list of musicians with whom he has played is long and illustrious, including the Isley Brothers. One of the best advantages from the bass is the low cadence that vibrates through my body, as any dependable heart beat should. 

Last, but certainly not least, Eric Valentine, who played with Peter White for the past several years, made a blur of his drum sticks. Long dreads swing and sway as Eric wailed on his kit. Eric's innovative and purposeful flailing produced a three-dimensional foundation for the other four band members. Late in the set, during his solo, Eric pulled his headband over his eyes as he beat out complex rhythms, as well as tossing and catching his sticks.

As their last set of the weekend, band members generously played long and hard. All members brought joy and energy to their work, which, although certainly vigorous, effortful, and sublime, looks a lot like the height of play.

Ann Beth Blake
(c) January 20, 2015

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