2010’s holiday season is now in full swing. I think it got a kick start this year sometime around mid August. Yes, it just keeps getting moved back or so it seems. The shoppers are bustling looking for holiday specials, Santa’s on every corner or at least in the mall chilling in the air condition (remember this is Florida and it’s 85 degrees outside – sorry snowbirds). Holiday music is now filling the airwaves of your favorite store and on the radio. The CD shelves are stocked with old favorites and new releases and the seasonal movies are beginning to appear on television. If you’re not fully into the groove of all this wondrous madness or just can’t quite bring yourself to jump in with both feet I have a great remedy: Dave Koz and Friends – A Smooth Jazz Christmas live in concert. There’s nothing like watching a live performance. And around this time of year it’s great to get out of the stuffy malls and get a real breath of fresh air holiday style.
This year marks the 13th anniversary of Koz’s Christmas tour and his line-up this time around ranks with one of the best. Keyboardist Brian Culbertson, South African singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler and Dutch saxophone star Candy Dulfer round out the ensemble. Butler and Culbertson have been here before and are returning to rave reviews and well deserved praise. This is Dulfer’s first time around with saxophone extraordinaire Koz. After watching this evening’s performance I’m sure it won’t be her last.
Koz began the show in true rock’n’roll style. A plain black backdrop curtain hid the band’s set up: life-size cardboard cut outs of Koz adorned the stage as the rousing sound of Christmas music began to fill the air. Suddenly, bam! a single spot and there in the corner of the stage Koz stood in full paparazzi style pose dressed in a gray flair jacket and sporting cool shades (sunglasses). The first thing you notice about Dave’s performance is though he’s a saxophone player he doesn’t merely stand still. Moving around, dancing a jive and swiveling his hips aka Elvis Presley the guy definitely has rhythm and soul. He’s a lot of fun to watch play.
Jonathan Butler’s entrance was not as dramatic as Koz but his vocal styling certainly rang loud and clear on this night and was superb. Opening his introduction with the holiday favorite ‘Sleigh Ride,’ Butler rang in the show with true Christmas cheer and festive tidings. He was the main vocalist for the night and was obviously up for the task. His guitar playing whether it be taking lead on the electric or lending his subtly on the acoustic, Butler showcased exactly why he is considered one of the best players on the scene.
Candy Dulfer entered the stage in regal style and sporting some flash wearing a black sequined dress and high heels. She brought the evening down to a slower pace with a beautifully romantic and smooth jazz rendition of ‘Silver Bells.’ Butler joined in singing on the chorus.
Brian Culbertson was the energizer bunny of the evening. And yes, that’s meant as compliment. Moving about the stage from the keyboard to trombone with ease his boundless energy was a sight to behold. Besides the fact that the guy can play a wicked 88 keys. He makes me wish I had stuck with piano lessons when I was a kid. The backdrop finally hit the floor after the four finished their opening segments. A four piece band emerged as four illuminated screens flashed red and white candy cane images heralding Santa’s apparent arrival to the show. Butler and all welcomed the jolly dude in the red suit (who still owes me a Harley motorcycle from when I was twelve – that’s another story) with a crowd pleasing ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.’ With the song list moving on the backdrop just added to the experience of each note. Changing colors, radiating Christmas scenes (snow and other holiday pics); it was the perfect accent to accentuate the evening’s performances. One of the best performances on this night was unquestionably Jonathan’s church revival-esque version of his ‘You Got To Believe In Something.’ Dave, Candy and Brian all led their voices (yes they all can sing and rather well) to its chorus as Butler enlisted the audiences participation at the end of song. It was an inspiring performance. The standing ovation of the night came with Butler’s ‘O Holy Night.’ There’s really not much I can say about this accept: incredible performance, heartfelt vocal, an inspiring moment – a true wonder to hear and witness. Bravo Jonathan.
My favorite part of the evening came when the fab four took the stage sitting on bar stools and played their favorite Christmas songs. Culbertson once again proved why he is one of the finest keyboard players on the planet. His rendition of ‘The First Noel,’ maybe for the first time ever, brought forth the incredible beauty of the melody. His gentle keyboard playing gave an astonishing treatment to a traditional holiday classic. Candy’s sultry and playful ‘Santa Baby,’ was just plain fun. Taking the vocals by the reindeer reigns her voice really is beautiful to hear. Jonathan’s ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy,’ was the moment that brought the holiday and its true meaning back into focus. Forget all the shopping and gifts; this is really what it’s all about. Koz ended the segment by taking the microphone himself and singing one of his favorite songs, though not a holiday song, ‘This Guy’s In Love With You.’ Again, in fine voice, Koz commanded the moment and made the ballad his own with a very simple arrangement.
One of the great things about going to concerts and reviewing them is not only getting to see some wonderful performances but on occasion getting to meet the players. On this tour the audience has the ability to do the same. Koz, Butler, Dulfer and Culbertson all gather after the show in the lobby to sign CD’s and meet their fans. It’s a great testament to their accessibility and love for their craft and the folks that support them.
This is a great holiday show that’s enjoyable for all ages. It’s a rocking good time even though it’s billed as a smooth jazz Christmas. There is something here for everyone. If Dave and friends are coming to your town this year, pack up the car, drive over the mountain and through the woods (pass Grandma’s house – unless you’re taking her too) and make a stop to see Dave and the gang. It will add a spring to your step, holiday cheer to your night and visions of sugarplums dancing in your head. Happy holidays everyone.