Big NY & The Smooth Jazz All-Stars
A Smooth & Funky Christmas
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club
Dec, 20, 2015, 7:30 pm
The Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club in Bethesda, MD, had probably never envisioned a funkier, smooth jazz-laced event like that put on by Big NY & The Smooth Jazz All-stars on Sunday, Dec. 20. In addition to the event drawing – to my knowledge – a record crowd, the “All-stars” were truly a collection of some of the genre’s great indie musicians, including guitarist Drew Davidsen, Pieces of a Dream saxman
Eddie Baccus Jr., rising star trumpeter Willie Bradley, keyboardist Elliot (“The Beast) Levine, saxman Rob Maletick, drummer Jay Jones, multi-instrumentalist Craig Austin, percussionist Curtis McCain, Groove Skool founder/bassist (and leader of this pack of groovesters) Christian “Big NY” De Mesones and his longtime Groove Skool cohort saxman Keith Anderson.
Now, if you are not quite familiar with some or any of the names listed above, let me assure you, you have been severely underserved, my friend. This fired-up concert would have been quite enough to convince you to do some serious research on each and every member of this ensemble. This was smooth jazz with a funky holiday twist, but, first and foremost, it was a massive display of class, dedication, and an obvious love of music that served as the glue here.
After a wonderful intro by the always-charming, witty, and lovely Trish Hennessey, the band rolled out a rousing opener, a cover of the British acid jazz group Down to the Bone’s “Staten Island Groove” that truly got this party rockin’. Following that, the always personable guitarist Drew Davidsen hit his “Sweet Spot” from his True Drew release, a tune sparkling with crisp jazzy chords and riffs — and lots of drive.
You could sense that the audience was so in the mood for this concert as, looking around, I could see so much head-bopping, foot-tapping, and all eyes were riveted on the dancing stage.
Rolling out some Christmas spirit, drummer Jay Jones ushered in “Little Drummer Boy,” and Bradley, Big NY, Levine, and all of the extremely well-arranged horns took it from there, lifting the hearts and spirits of everyone there, I’m sure.
Saxman Maletick then charmed all with his strong funk-driven “Give It Back” (one of my faves of the evening) from his Back Homerelease. Big NY and Anderson then followed with the exotically enticing Groove Skool jam “Latin Jive” (another of my faves) from their only full CD release Limited Edition. A sense that this was going to be one powerful night to remember was quite evident by now.
Returning to the Christmas theme, lest the spirit get lost in all of this funk, Davidsen offered up his “Carol of the Bells” from his We 3 Stringz album, a seasonal collaborative effort with fellow guitarists Chuck Loeb and Paul Jackson Jr. Ah yes, it was certainly beginning to sound a lot like Xmas!
Big NY’s bass then stepped up to make a profound statement with “Don Pedro,” a tune dedicated to the towering bassman’s departed dad, for whom he obviously had and still holds much love as was evident in his struggle to fight back overwhelming emotion while introducing the piece. To say he honored his dad well would be a gross understatement, and the audience was in total agreement as cheers and applause rained down on the bassist at the conclusion of the tune.
Next up, Levine (“The Beast”) kept the audience fully engaged with his spectacular cover of the wonderful all-time classic “Linus and Lucy.” This electric guy never ceases to amaze me with his energy and the broad smile on his face as he delves into the music, obviously having his own party internally.
Following Levine, the moving tribute to our men and women in uniform via the Groove Skool track “Give Thanks” featuring Anderson and the entire horn section, was just that…soundly moving.
Back to the Xmas spirit we returned as the band cut loose on a medley of classics featuring Bradley, Big NY, Davidsen, and Baccus. A magnificent display of depth and warmth.
There were so many other crowd-pleasing numbers performed that night that I’d end up writing a book here if I were to take you on each selection’s journey. I will say that huge tunes of note included Bradley’s cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” an excellent rendition which can be found on his Another Day & Time release, Big NY’s funky/bluesy “Good Old Days,” a tune so reminiscent of the Sly & The Family Stone era, and the monstrously funky Groove Skool giant “The Train.”
In addition to all of this, including Bradley literally bringing the call of his melodic trumpet out into the audience to woo and wow, the air was as thick as pea soup with love and holiday joy. Fun times for all in attendance. If you didn’t attend, you might want to keep your ears and eyes peeled for news of this smooth & funky show and gathering of most competent musicians in the future. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr