Heads up Super Band

Live at the Berks Jazz Fest

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One of the best sources for in the pocket smooth jazz recordings since the early '90s, Heads Up's promise of a live date featuring three of its most appealing core artists -- bassist Gerald Veasley, keyboardist Joe McBride, and saxman Kenny Blake -- seems like as sure a bet as the genre can offer. In terms of showcasing the varied strengths of each performer and their adaptability to an ensemble setting, the Heads Up Super Band's Live at the Berks Jazz Fest at Albright College in Reading, PA is a triumph. McBride's forte is playful, uplifting synth melodies and soulful, George Benson-like scat vocals, and he shines on the light funk of "Sweet Street" while Blake matches him note for note. Instrumentally, the band doesn't add too much new to Hall & Oates' gentle '70s hit "Sarah Smile," but McBride takes the opportunity to show his raw vocal power. One of Veasley's specialties is subtly weaving his bass melodically around moody synth atmospheres, and he and Blake do a cat and mouse kind of slow dance on "Night Games." As a leader, Blake specializes in his own brand of sensuous funk, and Veasley gives him a solid, seductive rhythmic foundation to lift a few improvisations off "Dancing at the Pagoda." All of these are mere pleasantries in comparison with the closing tune, a live jam whose combustible spirit shows that these hard workers are about more than radio-friendly jazz. Blake leads his "Mississippi Mudslide" aggressively over Veasley's slappy bass groove and McBride's throbbing Sunday Morning blues-gospel best, leading to a jam so buoyant it feels shortchanged at just under six minutes.

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