Concert Review: Japanese Tsunami Relief
When a massive earthquake shook Japan down to its very foundation just a few short months ago, many of us wanted to step up and do something. Then there are people like world renowned bass player Marcus Miller that actually make good on these intentions. Partnering with the west side’s Highline Ballroom who donated the space, Miller and a cavalcade of incredible jazz artists took the stage Sunday night for “A Concert to Benefit Japanese Tsunami Relief,” in front of only a few hundred fortunate guests.
Admittedly, prior to Sunday, Miller had been a virtual unknown to us. A virtuoso in the jazz community, a look at his body of work reveals collaborations with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, and saxophonist David Sanborn. But this evening, the floor was completely his- and he unequivocally owned the room. His unique method of slapping the strings on his bass, rather than traditionally walking his fingers between the frets showcased a sublime musical talent, capable of entertaining even casual music listeners. As rehearsed as most live performances come off, Miller’s penchant for live musical improvisation gave the room an old school feel, with a flurry of anticipation over which supporting musician would jump in next.
Serving as MC and bass player, Miller also played band leader, nodding at each accompanying musician, encouraging them to jump in with their notes at his dictated pace. Miller was backed by his own support band, including standout saxophonist Alex Han, who never seemed to get winded after elatedly hopping up and down, holding extended note after note; he just as excited to play for us as we were to take in his talents, and trumpet player Sean Jones, absorbed with the aura of an old-world, casual jazz instrumentalist. Both picked and chose their spots meticulously and invigorated the crowd with their energy and prowess.
Miller would bring out guest after guest to join him on stage for a few songs at a time- each one contributing their own bits of personality to the newly formed sound. The masterful Robert Glasper’s fingers moved at a rapid fire pace on the keys. Blind singer/songwriter Raul Midon wowed the audience, strumming his acoustic guitar and performing a pitch-perfect vocal mouth trumpet, to raucous applause. Trumpeter Wallace Roney dazzled with his rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Singers Angelique Kidjo and Maya Azucena impressed the crowd separately with their beautiful vocals and seductive body movements. The highlight of all became the arrival of rapper Q-Tip, former A Tribe Called Quest member. The Jamaica, Queens native took the stage, receiving an uproarious applause, unbeknownst to him which songs he’d be a party to playing beforehand. 1990’s “Bonita Applebaum” became a wonderful jazz-induced throwback, the crowd’s collective heads bobbing in utter delight. Disappointingly, The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson was also slated to appear, but unfortunately did not. And while his absence was questionable, it did not detract from a fantastic celebration of jazz music to benefit the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund.
- Jane Van Arsdale