Concert goers at Pageant Beach enjoyed a rare treat from some of the best jazz and R&B proponents in the business, last Saturday, in the biggest crowds of this year’s jazz fest.
Headliner, Brian McKnight, fresh from his debut on Broadway, gave a stellar first ever performance in Cayman.
Bolstered, perhaps, by a return to solo singing after a six week stint in smash hit Chicago, the charismatic New Yorker aced his set and won many new fans into the bargain.
The R&B legend and hit maker varied the pace throughout his 75-minutes on stage. Playful, romantic and engaging, McKnight swept the near capacity audience along with him in a beautifully nuanced performance.
Blessed with velvety vocals and jaw dropping range, he offered up several crowd pleasers from his 2006 album Ten as well as some vintage tracks from his illustrious career.
Well able to fill stadia, in his own right, McKnight shared the stage with his talented sons, jazz man Mike Phillips, R&B all-star Joe and gospel great BeBe Winans. His performance was watched off stage by friend and Soul Food actor Boris Kodjoe.
Captivating the audience, the singer/songwriter/producer known as much for his looks and fashion sense as his vocal prowess, hit the right notes without even opening his mouth. Dressed in a close fitting shirt, unbuttoned to the navel, and killer jeans, his arms garlanded with tattoos, he oozed effortless star power and ‘A’ list appeal.
The Grammy nominee, whose latest CD offering has seen him transition over to an edgier, expanded sound and more complex lyrics, also paid tribute to soul great Luther Vandross with an off the hook rendition of ‘Never Too Much.’
In many ways a classic soul man, McKnight shone a light on the complexity of the human condition in one of the break out songs of his set ‘Used to Be My Girl.’ This upbeat cut packs a disarmingly bittersweet punch. A nuanced collaboration with his new producers Tim & Rob, its lyrics speak to all pained exes who mask the hurt of loss by bragging about the old times to the former lover’s latest partner.
Other highlights, which had the crowd singing along, included his classic ‘Back to One’ and his more recent hits ‘Find Myself in You’ and ‘Anytime.’
At one point McKnight let the spotlight shine on the precocious talents of his sons on electric guitar and vocals. The pair impressed the audience with their musicianship and ease on the stage. Together he and his sons performed three cuts including ‘Rest of My Life’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’
With 16 million albums sold since his first release, McKnight showed his sound to be as fresh as ever in the revolving door world of R&B. Having carved out an unassailable niche for himself the audience was under no doubt that they’d seen a musician at the height of his powers with still more magic to come.
Brian McKnight closed out the evening with a return to stage for a rousing ovation and the renewed respect of the Pageant Beach crowds.
New Jersey saxophonist and standout jazz man Mike Phillips also delivered the goods.
The exemplar of what great contemporary jazz is all about; his musicianship was fluid, the progressions breathtaking in their originality. His well received set covered mellow to upbeat tracks which highlighted his dazzling and eclectic repertoire.
Phillips returned on stage during McKnight’s set to give the audience more of his unique style. As pumped up and energetic as his tracks, he personified music in motion.
In keeping with the other solid performances, the artist known as Joe rocked the audience with his soulful tenor through ‘All the Things Your Man Won’t Do’ and I Wanna Know.’
Another dapper dresser, his attire, not his music, was monochrome.
Pacing the stage in a triumphal swagger his powerful delivery and amped up style had the ladies out of their seats, the Georgia native belted out a raft of great tracks which melted everyones’ hearts.
His full on performance, well in keeping with the amazing mood of the evening, garnered him thunderous applause.
Benjamin Winans, aka BeBe rounded off the evening’s all star international contingent.
The Grammy winning gospel/R&B artist and member of the dynastic Winans clan lived up to his reputation and turned in a well received performance with songs like ‘Oh Happy Day’ and ‘It All Comes Down to Love.’
Blessed with a soulful tenor which soared and danced over the audience, Winans brought conviction to his set. And his gospel roots were never too far from the surface.
On stage with backing singers who included two siblings, he, also sang with Brian McKnight and Joe.
The outstanding trio gave a rare and unexpected gift by joining forces during ‘I’ll Take You There.’
The evening, hosted by the Department of Tourism and partners BET J, was opened by local performers Impulz Band and KK Alese.