Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – There was a time warp in Montreux last night that took me back to the days when I used to sing in front of the mirror waiting for the moment when I could go dancing with the big girls, on a “Ladies Night” because even then I knew, “A Woman Needs Love” and it is easy to get lost in “Boogie Wonderland.”

These are some of the dance and R&B anthems of the late 70s and 80s performed to a packed auditorium at the Montreux Jazz festival last night, 16 July.

Ray Parker Jr., was the opening act for an evening that took concert goers down memory lane. Parker was a chatter box speaking incessantly between songs but charming as ever. His suave style may not be to everyone’s liking (especially in a concert setting) but it seemed perfect for the Montreux experience where the audience clapped constantly and praised him… for just about everything. His acoustic rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” was a house hit as was his jazzy version of New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man.”

Starting 40 minutes behind schedule, Kool and the Gang was introduced by Quincy Jones and became the second headliner of what became a “funk packed” evening. There was no denying that after 40 years they’re still swingin’, “Hollywood Swinging” that is. K&G dropped their usual fancy outfits for more hip-hop oriented clothing and mixed their old hits with new “flavors” and lots of modern dancing. This was not just a concert, this was a performance (performance being the key word). Robert Kool Bell, Dennis Thomas, Ronald Khalis Bell and George Brown, presented their classics and added some Caribbean “experience” to the show which made new fans scream in ecstasy and some older fans cringe in confusion. The audience went wild in what seemed a perfect choreographed made-for-TV concert (attendees were able to purchase a USB key featuring the concert following the show). But not all fans were pleased. I heard an audience member say he was “disappointed” in what he considered to be an “over the top, frat-party performance.” “They are the ultimate wedding band,” he added. I am not sure if his comment was supposed to be an affront to the staying-power of the band but I can assure you these performers have been mixing funk, R&B and pop for years and will continue to do so successfully for more years to come.

Earth, Wind and Fire Experience grooving – Photo ©Montreux Jazz Festival

The evening closed with a stellar performance by Al McKay’s Earth, Wind and Fire Experience. There wasn’t much difference between this “Experience” and the former collaboration with Maurice White. McKay’s band boasts highly talented and accomplished musicians, and three smooth front-men. The choreography, the vocals, and the music were straight out of a high definition CD, so much so that it was difficult to spot the difference between these and the original performers. Fans were accordingly entranced by the performance, one woman even waved her lighter in the air (a la 1980) to the sound of “Shining Star.” This, however, was not a concert of rehashed hits. It was straight-up funk, R&B and jazz fueled by a tight ensemble including longstanding and new band members.

McKay thanked the Montreux audience saying he had been “trying to get in for the last 15 years,” and adding, “I am glad I finally made it! I hope to be invited again.” After the audience went wild and demanded an encore that lasted another 30 minutes I doubt there will be any resistance to future invitations.

Posted by :: Laila Rodriguez on 16 July 2009

News story, GenevaLunch, 16 July 2009.

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