So right out of the gate, everyone wanted to see what drummer Reinhardt Melz was going to do in Mel's presence. Mind you, it is not showing off or trying to impress; it is giving honor and respect.
It all started so cool with a usual section of instrumental warm-ups and Jay "Bird" Koder bringing out a new guitar to test out. Reinhardt sets a cool swinging pace and Jarrod Lawson doing fine work on the keys. And then Reinhardt turns on a furious drum solo which Mel applauded appreciatively. As the trio returned, Mel was slowly nodding his approval.
The second instrumental saw Bird put away the new guitar and return to the old gig-standard Epiphone/Gibson/Something-else warhorse. This was a Bird original composition and it was just cool.
Bird introduced the next number by sending it out to "This sweet lady came all the way from Japan to hear her SoulMates. This is for you, Chieko." The regulars know what the song is going to be and they can't wait for it. The song is Ryu Sakamoto's Sukiyaki. The toughest guy will get a lump in his throat the way SoulMates perform this. It is easily the most moving instrumental in SoulMates repertoire. Barney Early later confessed that he regretted not being seated by his wife when Bird turned it on in this song's solo. It is just so. The SoulMates rendition of this makes you long to be close to your loved one. Bird's face changes when he plays this. He seems to lose himself in it and his listeners follows him.
When the song fades out, it is like a pleasant daydream that you don't want to end. But Bird grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you up into the next adventure. And what an adventure!
Valdez in the Country was dedicated to Mel Brown because this song is Reinhardt's playground. This is a drummer's dream song and Reinhardt was completely unconscious in this one. The drum solo was a masterpiece on its own. Mel applauded enthusiastically and again later. He clearly loved the solo but he was digging the Reinhardt groove. When Reinhardt lights it up, everybody sees the light. Jarrod ripped up the keyboard and Bird just howled on the guitar. When Bird worked the guitar over you could see him making the "Wah..WAH...WAHHHHH" open-mouthed imitation of the guitar sounds. Leaves you chill-bumps.
After a sweet return to Gershwin's Summertime, the younger crowd arrived and began to really fill the place. But also arriving were more of Portland's premiere musicians. Here came Reo and Ricky Vernato from Andy Stokes' Band. Soon after entered none other than Victor Little the great bassist whose hometown is Portland. Arietta Ward snuck in and took up a usual seat in the back. All of these had been regulars at the Candlelight but this was the first time that they had made it to Blue Diamond to see their SoulMates. Joining the whole crowd was Portland's other legendary drummer, Ron Steen.
Mel Brown and Ron Steen in the same place at the same time. It was too good to be true. Reinhardt gets to sit in the chair of Thor while Zeus and Jupiter are in the audience.
Lance Giles! Where were you? You missed it all!
For the first time, the dance floor filled up. Now it's a small dance floor but this was the first Monday night I have seen it full.
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover kept them on the floor until Knocks Me Off My Feet really cut loose the magic.
Mel Brown had stepped out into the hall and during Jarrod's soulful Everything I Need, he stood close behind Reinhardt and took it all in. Such a moving song. Can't get enough of it and, apparently, neither could Mel.
Then it was time for lively soul and Donny Hathaway's Love, Love, Love started the fun. This was "pretty music," as Donny called it. "You made me fall in love with you/ Now I don't know just what I'm gonna do" was then accompanied by a very pretty guitar solo from the Bird. It was a stop-you-in-your-tracks solo and that is not an exaggeration because a cyclist had been passing by and, when he heard the music, hit his brakes and stopped right at the open door of the place. He sat astride his bike with a huge smile and bobbing head until the song's conclusion when he had to move on.
Shirley Brown was dancing by her seat during Can't Hide Love. Jarrod open all the stops and let his pipe-organ voice wail. Ain't Too Proud to Beg brought all the dancers back to the floor.
Bill Withers' Lovely Day has become an indespensible song for me. I was always a huge fan of the Withers original but SoulMates bend every song to their own and they improve it. I have gone back and listened to the Bill Withers CD, just like I have done with Stevie's Knocks Me Off My Feet and Donny Hathway's Valdez in the Country. Seriously, the originals have been replaced for me. The SoulMates' versions have become my favorite versions. If they ever cover And You and I by Yes or Larks' Tongues in Aspic by King Crimson, I just may have to sell off my CD collection entirely. What would be the point in keeping the originals? SoulMates keep turning in better versions!
Arietta Ward was called up onstage for the closing songs. What had been a regular feature at the Candlelight has now carried over to the Blue Diamond. The go-to songs for Arietta and SoulMates are Fly Like an Eagle and If You Want Me to Stay. 'Etta acknowledged that she had not done her "homework" and so Jarrod passed her a lyric sheet.
She sweetly exclaimed, "I get so excited when I join my SoulMates!"
I think we all feel that way. The music was done but no one seemed to budge. Mel and Shirley were still in their seats. Reo and Ricky, Victor and Ronnie were all sticking around. For a couple of hours on Monday night, the best of the best were assembled together, excited to join their SoulMates.
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