and The Michael O’Neill Quintet
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, September 15, 2016
Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes
Word is Kenny Washington is the best jazz vocalist you never heard. And, after his electric Feinstein’s debut with arranger/saxophonist Michel O’Neill, I agree wholeheartedly. The combination of Washington’s phenomenal scat and smooth deliveries with one of the finest jazz bands in the Bay Area made for a sublime evening of great music. The epic version of Miles Davis’ “So What” that opened the show set a ridiculously high bar, and what followed maintained that level. Quite the accomplishment.
Washington would often intro the tune with either a delicious scat or opening verse, then allow O’Neill’s band to fly off into fast-paced arrangements highlighting trumpeter Erik Jekabson, pianist John R. Burr, bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Alan Hall. Composer Michael O’Neill, who’s worked extensively with Washington on many projects, is a master of the tenor and alto saxophones. He understands how to work with great jazz vocalists, and the interplay between these two is similar to great pairings likeCécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Aaron Deihl or Paula West and the late George Mesterhazy. Magic happens when you find your musical complement.
“Dinah” (Harry Akst/Sam M. Lewis/Joe Young from The New Plantation Club Revue in 1925) is a fine example of the Washington/O’Neill collaboration. A great bouncy and engaging vocal paired with the sweet interplay between O’Neill’s sax and Jekabson’s trumpet. Similarly, “Georgia” highlights Washington’s R&B/soul influences and another strong jazz vocal with all-around solos by the band, and fresh arrangement by Jekabson. Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “It’s You or No One” again had Washington’s vocal bookending captivating solos by Erik, Mike and John.
The set closer was Dizzy Gillespie’s popular “Night in Tunisia” where the band provided a perfect counterpoint to Washington’s scatting, elevating the tune to uncharted waters. O’Neill’s immaculate arrangements and the superb musicianship and excellent song selections are pure gold. Add one of the finest male vocalists in the business and you have a remarkable evening of pure jazz.