Front Row, Center by Lynn Olson - Brenda Russell
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Spaghettini, Seal Beach, CA
Brenda Russell Event
Vocals: Brenda Russell
Keyboard player and Vocalist: Bill Cantos
Saxophone: Michael Paulo
Guitar: Glenn Alexander
Bass: Melvin Davis (Lee Ritenour Band)
Drums: Paul Peress
Brenda and the band were on stage when I arrived. The sound check went like this:
“Can we try a little of this again? The sound is much better.”
Wow, talk about vocals, this girl’s got it goin’ on! Talk about pipes and class, Brenda Russell wrote the book! Tiny-framed, down-to-earth Brenda stood center stage in casual pre-show flip flops and took the tune to the moon.
Anonymous band member~
“Take it from the top.”
Bill Cantos hit the keys and vocals. What a falsetto! Brenda and Bill sang Who are you? Russell belted it out as if she were six-foot tall! A wow moment already! Her aura commanded respect immediately. The simplicity that is her is beautiful. Watching the band member’s interaction with her from my bird’s-eye view was priceless. The adoration and camaraderie was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. I sat back, soaking it up like a jazzy sponge, in awe, of course.
“Can you hear me alright?”
“Can we do that ending?”
They hit it again.
Brenda turned to drummer Paul Peress~
“What do you want to do?”
Brenda leaned over the rail for a sunglass exchange, stage to assistant (her daughter perhaps?).
The beautiful young woman looked at keyboard player & vocalist Bill ~
“He’s such a good singer!”
The woman replied~
“Do you want your little black towel?”
(Sound check cont.)
Michael Paulo started warming up She Walks This Earth, Brenda’s, perfect tone and pitch left me breathless. Sax man Michael Paulo was blowin’ it up while Brenda was in the zone singing her lungs out. And oh what a place to be!
Keyboard player & vocalist Bill Cantos to saxophonist Michael Paulo~
“A flat major, the two bars later, the same thing. It was sort of a test and you passed!”
“That’s the only change though, right? Lemme do She Walks This Earth.”
Brenda left the stage.
Guitarist Glenn Alexander~
“Q, can I have a little guitar?” (for those not familiar with Spaghettini, Q is one of the most awesome sound directors on the planet!)
From there, the boys started kickin’ it. Bill carried the vocals to heaven while Michael blew, Melvin thumped and Paul kept the steady beat while New-York-based Guitarist Glenn’s Golub-laced vibe twanged the sweet melody. Collectively, their groove was stellar! It’s confirmed. This is gonna be one great night of music! An ‘E’ ticket ride awaits, I guarantee it!
“It should just be an open band, cue it, then just bang it. Yeah, yeah, double it! If you know it, just play it!”
Melvin Davis joked~
“Q said, you can have all the fun you want, but at nine PM, you’re done!” I was hoping against hope this would not be the case!
Sound director Q walked on stage for his final sound-check spruce. Paul’s sister, Anika Paris (recent Facebook friend), strolled by. Nice surprise and her resemblance to Paul was uncanny. We chatted briefly. I no more than picked up my pen and Paul’s mom walked in.
“I’m good! How are you?!” They took their seat.
“Did you guys decide if you’re gonna do on long set?”
Saxophonist Michael Paulo~
“No, we’re gonna take a break, a short break.”
After the final stage set up, they disbanded. About fifteen minutes later, clad in a crisp white shirt, Paul Peress walked back in and approached me for a follow-up hello.
He concluded our brief discussion with a jazzy twinkle in his eye~
“It’s gonna be fun!”
The lights were up and it was hit-it-boys time!
Paul Peress echoed from behind his drum set~
“How’s everybody doin’ tonight? I’m Paul Peress from New York City! We’ve got a power-packed evening tonight! We’re gonna bring out Brenda Russell in a little bit. ” Paul introduced the band, then shared details of keyboard player and vocalist Bill Canto’s recent work on Phil Collin’s tour. “I don’t think there’s anyone here who hasn’t heard of him!” He mentioned fellow band member guitarist Glenn Alexander was also from New York. Saxophonist Michael Paulo commented about his previous night’s Spaghettini East Bay Soul performance.
“I slept here last night!”
“We’re gonna do a couple of well-known tunes. This one was written by one of the most well-known bands that ever crossed the Atlantic. It’s a Beatle tune called A Day in the Life.”
Saxophonist Michael Paulo squeezed his mini-sax like a ripe piece of fruit. Jazzy notes dripped down his elbows, flooding the stage. Bill Cantos kicked the keys upside down. Paul’s drumbeat clicked with bassist Melvin’s deep thump. Their off-the-hook cohesion did the tune proud. Center stage, sax man Paulo’s arch-backed wail built the energy level to boiling, then blew the top off the pressure cooker! The bow of his body took the side-to-side sway, tipping the venue on its side. The expertly-synced band carried it to the zone. When Paulo again picked up the beat and ran away with it, the crowd went completely nuts! Guitarist Glenn snagged the love light and addressed it with style. Digging deep, he added a soulful touch to the cut. Seamlessly, he passed it to bassist Melvin Davis.
“Take it, Mel! It’s all yours!”
Suddenly, keyboard player & vocalist Bill Cantos went key crazy! Mel was still thumpin’ and bumpin’ his too-cool-for-words groove when Cantos took over on a scattin’ vocal that was out of this world. His falsetto finale was positively amazing! Back to bassist Davis for a little more chill. There wasn’t a person in the place that wasn’t sporting some form of Beatle mania! The audience frenzy was sheer insanity!
Paul Peress muttered~
“You got it fixed? You all know Jeff Golub, right?! He’s a good friend of mine and I get to work with him a lot. This is an Eddie Harris tune of his called, Cold Duck.”
Paul’s drumming said a Jeff Golub party is on the way! From there, ‘the boys’ kicked it into next week! Wow! It was just, plain fun! Michael twitched to tenor sax and exploded like a champagne cork.
Sax man Paulo~
“Eeh, eeh, Wooh!” Paulo’s overhead clap signaled guitarist Glenn Alexander’s icy-white guitar. His sound on his solo was as pure as the driven snow, crisp and clean. The guys goofed around until Golub-style cut-the-cake mania broke out. Their slap-happy Cold Duck party frothed free-flowing, bubbles of jazz!
Anonymous audience member~
Michael snagged center stage and owned it! He blew his socks off and ours too! Chair dancing ran rampant. Everyone was foot stompin’ and head boppin’ while Michael crouched down, then up, then repeated. He revved the crowd like a V-8 Mustang. Energizer Bunny Bill thwacked the ‘ivories’ again. He was unable to sit still! His crazy fingers earned the off-the-hook award! Wow times three for his guy again and straight to superstar status he went!
“Hey!” Michael pointed to bassist Melvin Davis. The crowd went bonkers over Mel’s solo! The band cut back in for an assist when sax man Michael Paulo began a duel center stage. In the end Michael hopped a one-legged finale blow. They concluded with a rather large high five.
“Thank you and goodnight!”
“Okay, we’re gonna bring it up now! This tune came to me in a dream and I’m glad I got up to hit the keys! This song will feature Glenn Alexander on guitar and Bill Cantos on vocals. Beautiful, beautiful!”
I Just Can’t Let Go was up next. Bill outdid himself on vocals once again. Sax man Paulo took over briefly, then smoothly slipped it back to Cantos’ final touches on the hip-sway.
“Those were some vocals! If I could take the sax, I’d say it like that! There’s something about sax licks. I don’t know!”
Michael tagged him with one more blow.
“Now if that doesn’t say ‘baby’, I don’t know what does!”
Bill knocked the vocals out the door and the crowd came unglued.
Multiple anonymous crowd members~
“Alright! Alright! Alright!”
“Yeah! Bill Cantos! Alright, Bill Cantos, everybody!”
“This song off my second CD originally featured Gabriela Anders (Argentinian jazz vocalist).” He apologized for being redundant with his announcement of another Beatle’s song. “This is an original of mine called Norwegian Wood.”
“Here’s one for the island! Here we go with Sugar City off the Can’t Let Go CD!”
Guitarist, Glenn Alexander lit this one up! Alexander moved to the front of the classroom for this one with four shiny gold stars. The man outdid himself!
“And now, for the moment we’ve all be waiting for! Brenda Russell is in the house!” The crowd roared as she sauntered on stage dressed in all black, hat cocked just so. She sparkled.
“I’ve brought some stuff for y’all. Thank you, to Paul for inviting me here to sing with him.” She talked about keyboard player & vocalist Bill Cantos, what an honor it was to be on the stage with him, then elaborated about the Love Wins CD and their powerful friendship. “I heard this song we’re gonna sing and I love it Who Are You? It’s the first song I ever recorded that I didn’t write. It’s just beautiful! I love it and I love him!”
Brenda and Bill were magic from the moment the song opened. Brenda’s vocals left me breathless and without words. Bill’s stellar accompaniment took the aura of her stage presence and enveloped every inch of the venue. We wallowed in their music. There was not an eye, heart or soul there what was not wholly theirs. The Brenda-Bill vibe was out of this world. My pen went dry as I sat in awe of what was before me.
“Thank you! Bill Cantos! This is a song I had the pleasure of writing for ‘the Sting Man’!” She reminisced about her two favorite artists, Sting and Yvonne. “I was very privileged to write these lyrics, and in two days! He won a Grammy for it! Maybe you’ve heard it?!”
Talk about moments being frozen in time, this song stopped time. Brenda Russell’s soul is the real deal and she puts it out there for her audience. Joined by Sting and Yvonne’s spirit, she locked into the jazz zone and threw away the key! Speechless, again, me?! Triple wows were understatements as our collective group of jazzy moths were drawn to the flood of charisma surrounding her.
“We’re teasing y’all. We’re gonna take a little New York break. We’re gonna play a little Piano in the Dark.” He reintroduced the band.
Set II (I typically do not write second set, but this ‘writer in the dark’ made an exception for a little Piano in the Dark!)
“We’re ba-a-a-ck!!! Thanks, everybody for hangin’! Tonight’s a special night for two people in the house, Bill Cantos and Mary Sharpp. This is for them.” The band played a Happy Birthday snippet. Paul clowned around with Bill. “I think the person having the most fun tonight is me! Happy birthday to Bill and happy birthday to Mary, you’re lookin’ smart!” He reintroduced the band. They played a medley of songs leading to the moment we’d been waiting for.
“Miss Brenda Russell!” She took the stage.
“That was good! Alright y’all! Hi! Is everybody feeling good, all warm and toasty?! This is a three-Grammy nomination song. I wanna hold one of those babies and I haven’t gotten to do that yet! I wanna share with you who I am. How many of you have seen the Color Purple?” She humbly spoke of meeting Oprah and the President. “This is my biggest hit, one of those little gems that God gives you and I’m very grateful for all of them!”
“You go, girl!”
Brenda Russell’s performance of Piano in the Dark sent shivers up my spine. Amazing sight, sound, soul…she’s honed the ‘it’ factor and all stops in between. Indescribably delicious notes drifted through the air. Bill, his million-dollar smile and sheer musical bliss tore it up on keys. Perfection shrouded Brenda’s mindboggling scattin’ finale.
“O-o-o-h-h-h! Oh, yeah!”
“One more time!” A slow-and-easy audience clap filled the backdrop to the lingering Piano in the Dark vibe. A silent groove enveloped us.
Brenda turned to Bill~
“Is it really your birthday? I wrote this next one when I was in Stockholm, Sweden. I was in pain. I wrote it in an hour and a half and it goes like this!”
She slipped her shoes off. The moment she started singing I, again, fell deeply in love with one of my favorite songs, Get Here. Chill bumps scampered across the fine hairs on my arms.
Anonymous crowd member~
“Get it, girl!”
Tears welled up in my eyes and I was breathless, once again. Guitarist Glenn Alexander shared a phenomenal duet as Michael Paulo’s emotion-packed sax led a band with the intensity of a full orchestra.
Another voice rang~
“Sing it, girl!” Her bone-chilling finale received a standing ovation. She leaned over, picked up her sandals and walked offstage. Everyone remained standing with the simultaneous simplicity and grandeur the legendary Brenda Russell left on the stage of Spaghettini.
In unison, the crowd hollered~
“You guys were awesome!”
I simply can’t leave this narrative without mentioning Mr. Paul Peress and his set-II-off-the-chain solo. Everyone went crazy while he whacked, thwacked and reinvented drumming. Here you go Paul, a beautiful triple wow, well earned! How can I ever thank Paul Peress and his band for an unforgettable night with Brenda Russell?! I hope these words will serve that purpose!
© September 2010 Lynn M. Olson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED http://lynnjazz.wordpress.com/