Friday night found an amazing array of talent assembled on – and one of them off – stage at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five. I’ve described these shows before and I’ve been to many very, very good editions, but I have to say I can’t remember one that felt more special than this one. Billed as “Chico Crawford’s Jazz Funk All-Stars featuring lance Owens and special guest Donald Brown,” the night was originally intended to be a CD release party for Lance Owen, but the CD isn’t ready, so that’s been delayed until February.
But the party went on. Featured players included Chico Crawford (organ), Lance Owens (saxophone), Donald Brown (piano), Will Boyd (saxophone), Kelle Jolly (vocals), Kerry Hodge (guitar – off stage), Dwight Hardin (congas and vocals) and Nolan Nevills (drums). I’d never heard Chico before and jazz organ is a rare treat when you can find it. I’ve heard Lance a few times, but each time is precious and while he seemed to struggle a bit at times to get all the wind he needed, when he pulled it together he still has a beautiful sound.
Donald Brown produced the upcoming album from Lance and the mutual admiration and camaraderie were clearly evidenced on stage. The band was Chico’s, but Donald exerted a powerful influence on stage. I’m given to understand it’s the first time the two of them have shared a stage, and it proved to be a combustible combination. Dwight Hardin offered most of the vocals through the night and did so very competently. He does a good Marvin Gaye.
The night wasn’t solid jazz, as rhythm and blues popped up frequently. Kelle Jolly electrified the crowd with her vocals on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” It seemed to stretch for fifteen minutes, but every moment sparkled. As is often the case at KMA for Alive After Five, many people danced and one delightful aspect of the dancers on this night was the ethnic diversity which reflected that of the audience. Sadly, it’s rare to find a mix of white and black Knoxville citizens in a crowd – and I mean a real mix, not a sprinkling of one or the other. It’s something I’ve observed for the thirty years I’ve lived here.
This excellent concert series runs more or less year-round, with breaks at different points in the year, on Friday nights and often features some of the very best talent on the Knoxville scene. There are two remaining shows on the Fall Schedule: A Brownie McGhee Birthday Bash on November 30 with Big John and the Nationals and one of my long-time favorite bands, Slow Blind Hill ($8.00), and a holiday dance party with R.B. Morris and the Streamliners ($12.00).
It’s always reasonably priced with food available from at least one vendor and wine and beer available. It’s an impressive cheap date. It’s early enough (6:00 – 8:30) to get back home by bed time or to head out to any of a number of other shows that start in local clubs at 9:00 or after. It’s also smoke-free and that’s worth something, to me. Why not take the short walk across the World’s Fair Park and try it out sometime?