Brenda Russell and Earl Klugh October 27, 2007
By Glen Creason
Once again the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts became the venue for Smooth in Southern California as veteran performers Brenda Russell and Earl Klugh charmed a full house at the big hall on Saturday night. Together, these two possess decade upon decade of success and piles of gold in both bank holdings and records on the wall. Brenda Russell is a songwriter and singer of great skills and repertoire while Earl Klugh is just one of the best acoustic guitar players breathing the (somewhat murky southland) air of planet earth.
Ms. Russell opened the show with her foot down on the pace accelerator, bouncing through a pair of up-tempo joys including the evocative “Walkin’ in New York” that demonstrated from the get-go that the band she brought was top-drawer. Animated bass player Bill Sharpe once again stood out in this ensemble but double keyboardists Stephan Oberhoff and Bill Simpson along with a sensational young Latin percussionist named Ronny Gutierrez kept the sound superb throughout. Miss Russell wrings the utmost out of an arrangement and her “Expect a Miracle,” “Make You Smile” and “Please Felipe” raised the temperatures in the hall. Yet, the best was reserved for last as her finish included the silky smooth classic “Piano in the Dark,” a rather spectacular, gospel-spiced “So Good, So Right” and the truly grand finale of her anthem “Get Here.”
Earl Klugh continued a theme of great surrounding musicians and strong central playing in the second half of the evening. Klugh is mild-mannered, soft-spoken and unassuming but he just lets his ax do the yakking. His stage-mates included the powerhouse sax-man Lenny Price, legendary keyboardist David Lee and three of the best back-up singers you will ever hear. It was a very unusual group for an acoustic guitar concert since it included a five-man horn section and the trio of voices. The curtain-raising “Night Walk” was pure smooth jazz, the tune opened with an electrifying sax journey by Mr. Price, then centered on Klugh’s precise and lyrical guitar with a dreamy soundscape created by the full band. Once, the crown prince of quiet reflection Klugh brought plenty of voltage to the Cerritos stage this time. The easy-going music and patter were there yet pumped up a bit as in the absolutely beautiful “This Time” which was elevated by the spirited vocal of Lamont Van Hook. Strangely enough in a concert by a guitar great, the high points were songs with words sung by the back-up singer talent. Lynne Fiddmont was utterly sensational in her turn of the gorgeous “Now and Again” and young Valerie Pinkston put some tasty edges on a long jam of “Holding On” once more injected with funk by Bill Sharpe. This is not to say Klugh’s guitar was overwhelmed or ignored. Certainly his playing was at the highest levels and when the band finished with “Back in Central Park” he just demonstrated in capital letters why he is the headliner.