Concert Review: Blowing His Own … Wait, It’s Not A Trumpet, Or The G Force Is Strong With This One

November 22, 2014



Kenny G (or Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, which is a hell of a lot less poster-friendly) began his Johannesburg show on 20 November with a couple of gimmicks.

First trick: the lights went down, a couple of rear spots converged on a spot in front of the sound desk and – viola! – out of the darkness appeared one of music’s most recognisable coiffures. Once that portion of the audience seated at the front realised they were missing out, they stood up and turned to look down the central aisle, making the start of the concert feel like the beginning of a wedding (with a possible overlap in soundtrack).

Second trick: playing on his saxophone, as part of his first, standing-in-the-middle-of-the-crowd song, a near three-minute single note without taking a breath.

Yes, Gorelick’s played into the hands of his haters, who will say that such stunts support their argument vis-à-vis his being jazz’s credibility destroyer-in-chief.

But what he’s also done is prove that he knows how to work a crowd – folks who’d paid R1 200 a ticket stood on their chairs and squealed as they strained to see where he was starting off from – and showed, almost before the concert proper has started, that he has some very impressive chops (there were some unfeasibly fiddly bits on either side of the lengthy sustain).

Gorelick’s band are similarly accomplished, a tight, experienced quartet who, for the most part, manage to reign in any tendencies to fully demonstrate what they’re capable of. In their solo slots, however, each shows off ranging somewhere between “remarkable” and “jaw-dropping”. Percussionist Ray Powell is an exuberant showman, working his way through his extravagant rig and then moving to centre stage to engage the audience directly. Drummer Daniel Bejerano is equally impressive, but far less expressive, letting his superb technique – and a luxuriant moustache – do the talking for him. Bassist Vail Johnson combines harmonics with slapping and funk with traditional melodies in a blistering take on Amazing Grace when given his turn.

Everything is set to a formula: Gorelick wears the same suit in Johannesburg as he does in Seattle, and the walking around in the audience thing is a trademark move. But the slick musicianship from him and his band and his easy banter with the audience – Gorelick prepared a whole conversation in both Afrikaans and Zulu, rather than going for the more widely used, fist-pumping “SOUR-BON-GERRR!” most touring musicians seem to feel is appropriate when playing South Africa – mean his concert audience cannot help but be impressed, regardless of their musical taste and level of jazz snobbishness.

Live, he never approaches the levels of funny he exhibits below, but far edgier (“hey, it’s all about musical integrity”) artists have so far failed to see the funny side of the way they’re perceived, so kudos to Gorelick for using humour rather than affront as a response.

The man knows how to do what he does very well indeed. Enough said.