San Fernando Jazz Festival

A night of near-jazz at the Hill
A review of the fourth San Fernando Jazz Festival by Mark Lyndersay

Ray Holman and his band perform at the San Fernando Jazz Festival. Photos by Mark Lyndersay

It must have been the photo of Aaron Neville in the advertisements that drew one of the biggest crowds to patronise the San Fernando Jazz Festival. On the night of the show, his brooding, slitted eyes and burly arms seemed almost as attractive to the audibly swooning ladies in the audience as his rich tenor and soaring falsettos.
"My hair is dowwwnnnn," bawled a matronly miss as Neville launched into The Chi-Lites'
Oh Girl, "I'm ready to take you home!"

For the guys, there wasn't quite so much excitement in Aaron Neville's capably performed and well arranged set. The New Orleans singer stayed close to his roots and his strengths, sprinkling a few nondescript but agreeable funk songs among a liberal helping of his hit ballads, including
Tell it like it is his first major hit in 1966 and his popular cover of Everybody plays the fool.
The thing is, two hours of Aaron Neville turns out to be a lot if he isn't really talking to you, and believe me guys, he isn't singing Don't know much for us.
What he desperately needed was someone to contrast his singing style with, and the guys in the band crooning away weren't it. His lead guitarist, a solid fuzz player, stepped into the yawning breach a few times, but what seemed to be missing was a saxophone and a good trio of backup singers, some bawdy, deep-throated ladies to pick up the slack left by the lack of Linda Rondstadt in his duets and another tone to bring balance to his soaring soul.

There were three great backup singers available on Saturday night, but they were there for the other star of the show, a returning Carol Addison delivering a long-awaited performance in her homeland.
But patience with Carol, who was in fine voice and backed by a strong band, began to run thin when it became clear that she would be sticking to her gospel playbook. It seemed that everyone was stunned when she stumbled through an embarrassingly lyric-free version of David Rudder's
Hallelujah and closed her segment with a rousing Take me back.

After a memorable version of John Lennon's
Imagine and The Lord's Prayer, leaving the stage with not a note of her biggest local hit, the positivity anthem Shine On, seemed like a painful omission.

Vaugnette Bigford-Griffith hijacked Ray Holman's set with a blues number and one of Ray's own compositions with her rich, earthy voice and Holman, always a laid back and uninvolved performer content to let his sticks do his talking, let her have it.
Black Stalin closed a show bookended by big bands, the evening starting with a spirited set by NLCB Fonclaire who wrestled admirably with the challenge of bending the driving spirit of pan to the nimble articulations of jazz and provided carefully restrained backing orchestration for Baron.

The latter half of the show was dominated by an enthusiastic, but stumbling performance by the Police Band Jazz Ensemble, who heroically tackled works well beyond their capabilities, striving to keep up with Glen Miller's deceptively nimble
In the Mood and providing a blunt reading of the razor-edged precision of the Phoenix Horns on Earth, Wind and Fire's September.
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