At the end of my (what else?) rave review for the smooth jazz maestro and master showman’s holiday livestream bonanza Dave Koz & Friends: The Greatest Hits of Christmas 2020, I wrote words that still apply to any musical joy we can grasp, even while social distancing, six weeks into the new year: “But in this crazy mad world of 2020, we should all be grateful to accept the blessings and silver linings when they come.”
With spring just around the corner and vaccines making the rounds, there’s a bit more impending hope than there was back in December, but those of us who love the live concert experience still have to be satisfied with a small screen presentation of the real deal. Fortunately, the saxophonist is one of those big-thinking artists and showmen who can make a livestream feel like we’re right there with him – and he pulled it off tenderly, funkily and brilliantly with his special Valentine’s weekend show “A Romantic Night In With Dave Koz and Brian McKnight.”
Well-known his wild high-octane all-star summer and Christmas tours, Koz, captured the romantic, love, roses and infectiously sweet spirit of V-Day perfectly by toning down the breakneck energy and fast paced comings and goings for a gentler, easier grooving show filled with all sorts of sensuality and simmering cool. Those who remember his streaming Christmas show may recall the quick shuffle of replacement artists due to COVID-19 concerns. By keeping the list of collaborators small and intimate – R&B superstar Brian McKnight and multi-talented singer and Quincy Jones protégée Sheléa – not only were there no such logistical issues but the show seemed more streamlined, focused and richly emotional.
From the tender-hearted opening duet “My Funny Valentine” featuring McKnight on vocals and piano and vocals and Koz on tenor through their infectious closing singalong with Shelea on “I’ll Be There,” this was more of a beautiful celebration of love in its many forms, romantic and otherwise, than a big boisterous holiday party. Keeping mostly on theme even when he was rolling out his cherished hits (“Faces of the Heart,” “You Make Me Smile”), Koz created a unique, spirited flow between lush twists on classics like “As Time Goes By” (from his album At The Movies) and “This Guy’s In Love With You” (from Hello Tomorrow) and jamming, funk-filled moments on both familiar smashes (“Honeydipped,” “Together Again”) and the fun-filled jams from A New Day (the boisterous “Dr. Norm,” written for Koz’s late dad, and “Summertime in NYC,” a playful romp celebrating Manhattan featuring McKnight’s infectious vocals.
Another wonderful benefit to keeping the personnel stripped down was more interplay with and solo action by Koz’s incredible band – musical director/guitar virtuoso Randy Jacobs, bassist Nathaniel Kearney, Jr., keyboardist Carnell Harell and drummer Chad Wright. True to the occasion, the cats kept their hearts on their sleeves while laying down the foundational fire for the show’s funkiest moments.
Surely by Koz’s design and intention as host and impresario, the most memorable, soulful and heart-penetrating performances of the 110-minute show came from the solo spotlights and pindrop moments featuring Sheléa and McKnight.
Picking a single transportive moment isn’t always easy, but for sheer transcendence, nothing topped Sheléa – after mentioning that she was married this past New Year’s Eve – singing the Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman ballad “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Or McKnight paying homage to his wife Leilana Mendoza and saying before he met her, the love songs he wrote had no real meaning.
Seeing that passion for his wife in his eyes took his lovely stroll through his most indelible ballads (“Forever,” “The Only One for Me,” “Back At One”) to another level entirely. For good measure and balance, and to make sure he was covering the waterfront of Valentine’s Day emotions, he naturally included “One Last Cry.” The singers also individually created two other (literally) “Unforgettable” moments channeling Nat and Natalie Cole, him duetting sweetly with Koz and her zipping through the wild phrasing of “This Will Be,” with Harell creating dynamic synth horn textures to create the Koz “Summer Horns” vibe.
With spring just weeks away and the usual months of the summer festival season beckoning, we really don’t know what this year will look like as far as live performances and tours go. But thanks to Dave Koz and his amazing and beloved musical friends, no matter the season, no matter the occasion, we’ll always, thankfully and blissfully, have the music. And the groove.