By Fran Taylor
Special to the New Journal and Guide
The audience arrived at the 47th Annual Hampton Jazz Festival on a breezy sunny Sunday afternoon in their mostly white attire in honor of Frankie Beverly of Maze Fame. From head to toe – blankets of white. The show started precisely on time at 2 p.m.
The opening act was the Old School Staple group, The Unifics, all the way from Newport News, VA. They were a dapper group dressed in Black and white snazzy suits complete with white gloves and red roses resting in the lapels. Even the gloves were a throwback to the ‘70’s Black light phrase.
The harmony and choreography were air tight as they sang a medley of their hits and covers from back in the day, starting with Court of Love. The group smoothly went to What Becomes of a Broken Hearted, Remember What I Told You to Forget, Reasons, Would You Mind, After the Love Has Gone, and closed with their tear jerker classic, The Beginning of My End. Great opening act for a receptive audience who knew the songs from Back in the Day.
The next act was the Jubilant Jazz Trio better known as BWB. Guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and trumpeter Rick Bruan. Those guys were ecstatic to be on stage and it showed. They jumped, pranced, and grinned their way through the entire set of new music to old.
Opening with Billie Jean from their latest collaboration Human Nature: A Tribute to Michael Jackson. Whalum’s sax was the star of their classic Ruby Baby. Their infectious smiles made the music just that much more Jazzy. They all sang on That’s the Way Loves Goes, smooth voices with the Smooth Jazz and inserted some Funk with a Make My Funk the P-Funk tease. They came back to the Jackson tribute with I’ll Be There.
The rest of the set was filed with happy renditions of Do You Feel Me, My Girl, Just My Imagination and Funky Good Time. They also closed with the classic Grazing in the Grass, still jubilantly playing to and for the audience.
Next up Fantasia. Ms. Fantasia dazzled in a white sparkly mini-dress. She promised when she came out “No Lip-Synching!” and they stuck to it. The band and back-up singers were on point. She sang Free Yourself on the edge of the stage going from one end of it to the other not missing a note.
She also did the Old School homage. Playfully goading the audience to their feet with Nasty Girl and The Bird. The audience flew with her “Bird.”
She ended her set with two emotional renditions of her hits: When I See You and Have You Ever? She had the audience on the edge of their seats and in the palm of her hands as she sang those Torch songs from the Heart. She was fantastic.
I really hoped I could say that about the closing act of the afternoon. I cannot. The band, dressed in white, did their thing, their featured singer could not. Beverly started out good and did not keep the good up. He started with We are One and Southern Girls. His voice has aged and he missed notes. He segued into I Can’t Get over You. He said his “roots” were in Virginia with his mother coming from Queen and Kings County.
Frankie gave a history of the well-known tale of meeting Marvin Gaye in Northern California and Gaye’s part in giving the group their start. They continued with Golden Time of the Day and After the Morning After. He ended the set with the classics Back in Stride, Joy and Pain, and Before I Let Go. Of course those songs are show-stoppers, even with Beverly not hitting certain notes. The audience did not seem to mind, they hit them for him.
Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly, is such a beloved group that the missed notes did not matter. They got a standing O. And from the look on Beverly’s face, he knew he and the group are cherished.