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JAZZ REVIEW

Jazzy just isn't the same thing

September 01, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

There's jazz, and there's jazzy. And, despite their verbal similarity, they don't often have a lot to do with each other. The performances by Al Jarreau, George Benson and Raul Midon at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night had the potential to intriguingly juxtapose both these disparate notions. Jarreau and Benson have demonstrated the ability to deliver prime, hard-swinging improvisational music, as well as catchy, hook-oriented "jazzy" pop. And Midon, younger and less seasoned, has displayed a similar musical eclecticism.

OK, that sounds good as preview, but it didn't exactly work out that way on stage. Midon, on first, performed with only his solo guitar as accompaniment. Singing originals written from a distinctly Stevie Wonder perspective, he delivered an entertaining if somewhat repetitive-sounding set of songs. Despite several efforts to cross into jazz, his efforts in this arena seemed very much like a work in progress. Midon's most effective passages, in fact, came in a scat-singing finale with Jarreau and Benson, in which he more than held his own.

Jarreau's performance promised the most for the jazz-heads in the audience. He has been one of the most unusual vocal artists in the genre for three decades, winning multiple jazz vocal Grammys. This time, however, he seemed more concerned with emphasizing his humorous persona -- stalking the stage, interacting with the crowd, overemphasizing his vocal tendency to use bursts of sound and eccentric pronunciation. His version of "Take Five" -- usually a showcase of his extraordinary improvisational skills -- was largely a drum solo.

Benson's performances in recent years have emphasized the jazzy aspects of his music, and this night was no exception. Most of the set became a living jukebox program of hits. Every now and then, for very brief passages, Benson's remarkable guitar skills managed to surface through his ensemble's monochromatic wall of sound. More often -- even in the duet numbers with Jarreau from their new album, "Givin' It Up" -- the real jazz abilities of these two gifted performers were lost in the rush to jazzy commercial nirvana.

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