FANTASIA Wows the Playboy Jazz Festival

Tina Turner II

Tina Turner II

Remember that skinny single mom who won the American Idol competition back when the artist was more important than the judges? That was a decade ago. She headlined Sunday night at Playboy Jazz and knocked out the rest of the day’s lineup. Poor George Benson – who is a perennial crowd favorite – had to follow her.

We did not know what to expect from her. We figured George Benson would play Masquerade as he worked his way through a playlist that hasn’t changed much over time. But what would Fantasia bring?

She hit the stage running. An amalgam of Tina Turner and James Brown, she did not stop until the stage rotated away from a crowd that was almost as drenched as she in love and sweat. When she moved to the cat walk between the super boxes and garden boxes she brought so much energy the local security had to move in… much to everyone’s disappointment. Is she a Diva? Has to be doesn’t she, even though she presented herself as a charged up woman who loves to serve the mob. Work ’em up and leave ’em soaking.

proud 'n loud

proud ‘n loud

Midway through her performance she handed the mike to some dude at the edge of the stage while she rocked her body to the band’s locomotion. Just as she reached for it the guy says, in time, “Fantasia got a big old butt!” She smiled broadly and went on rocking. Between songs she walked back to the exact spot to say “Hey. You think I got a big butt.” You be the judge. If you get a chance to see her on a big stage like the Bowl, where she can take over the place like she did Sunday, do it. Best end-of-day-start-of-evening act we have seen at the Bowl in 20 years.

Playboy Jazz is a great way to check in on the city, how people are doing and feeling, what they’re eating, drinking and smoking. PBJ is a place to see a mix of jazz and pop performers. We always look for the trending acts along with the grizzled vets. George Lopez is a fine MC marking a new era. We hope he sticks around a while.

Jazz-sax-beautyJuan de Marcos and his Afro Cuban All Stars were pumping at methedrine cha cha speed as we arrived. Buena Vista Social Club pedigree hopped up to get the blood moving. We had high expectations for Jon Batiste who came around next. His Stay Human group needs musical focus. His big finish had on and his melodica prowling the cat walk with his sax playing pal. Meh.

Jose James has a voice and singing style reminiscent of Bill Withers. He is a pop performer playing and singing his own R&B compositions. We liked the selections and the performance but it lacked something. James had the hottest nameless woman singing backup, too. jose_james1WEBEven though she stood next to him through the set she was never introduced or given a solo. Moody elevator R&B jazz tunes perhaps worth a chase. The day’s veteran jazz potboiler group PRISM followed featuring Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks. Holland played with Miles and everyone wants to play with Eubanks. Three songs comprised their set. No vocals. Just old school serious jazz: bass, guitar, drums, piano.

Lonnie-Smith-cane-1WEBDr. Lonnie Smith the Legend, who like Holland has also been playing 50 years, turned in a decent set of ho hum songs. The capper got the crowd involved when he pulled what appeared to be a steel cane; maybe a two iron, and proceed to pound it rhythmically. The device is for real and can be sampled here. He was obviously having a good time… and so did the Bowl.