Rick Braun May 19, 2007
By Glen Creason
It should have been a portent of sounds to come when we saw the ushers at the Performing Arts Center holding bags of ear-plugs at door one before the Rick Braun “Smooth Jazz” concert on Saturday evening. A sign said the concert was “contemporary” and audience members should expect high volumes of the instrumentation. All of that was well and good, including the music overall but the arena rock pumped dimensions of sound certainly had the faithful leaning backwards in their vibrating seats. Braun who made his name with rather sweet tunes like “Holding Back the Years,” “Kisses in the Rain,” “Daughters” and “Sao Paulo” tossed the soft stuff in the back seat and tore up the hall on this night. Even though it was Saturday he took a “TGIF” attitude to the entire show, even playing it to open with fevered intensity that continued for a solid couple of hours.
The accomplished young trumpeter is not all about ego and surrounded himself with an all-star band including smooth stars Gregg Karukas on keyboards, British saxophone powerhouse Shilts and high voltage rhythm guitarist Randy Jacobs, all of whom had plenty of solo time in this show. Most importantly, drummer extraordinaire Rayford Griffin and big-time bass man Stan Sargent built a strong platform of R&B for the horns and leads on this night of well-muscled sound. “Hollywood and Vine” brought glitter gulch to Cerritos and “Emma’s Song,” dedicated to Braun’s little daughter was one of the exceptions to roughly smooth on this volume-inous evening. Shilts did a spirited job on his own composition “Look What’s Happened” and the first half closed with fully lyrical but laid out “Shining Star” and a funky jam called “Green Tomatoes spiced by the roaring rhythm guitar and keyboard daring do of Mssrs. Jacobs and Karukas.
The second half had a little more nuance and texture with the excellent guitarist Peter White joining for a couple of songs including a lengthy sonic journey sampling everything from funky reggae to themes from Bond flicks and a lively “Kisses in the Rain” that heated up pretty good for a supposed smoothie. Gregg Karukas played the sweet and saucy “Share the Girl in the Red Dress” which reached a very nice electric piano groove and the next number was just all about a mega-marathon drum solo by Rayford Griffin. In his finishing kick Braun gave the big crowd an added treat by bounding up and down the center aisle blasting off trumpet riffs as he went, delighting one and all who were able to see their hero up close and very personal. One of the wonders of the cordless microphone is this literal joining of the audience where they can actually see the artist sweat. Braun thrilled the faithful as he traded solos with the sax marvel Shilts blowing up a storm in his own section of the good seats. The place reached maximum thrust as the band finished with the marvelous “Grazin’ in the Grass” including electrifying stuff from all the front men, especially the young man with the trumpet.