CD Review: Second Nature
APRIL 12, 2016 BY SDCNEWS
Review by Danny R. Johnson – San Diego County News
Lington’s ‘Second Nature’ CD takes you to a Stone Soul Picnic of Memphis’ Beale Street
LOS ANGELES – “Master your horn, that’s all you’ve got to do. And it’s hard to do, you better believe that.” Coleman Hawkins 1967. When you listen to multi-talented saxophonist, producer and composer Michael Lington’s Second Nature CD, his latest new recording to be released on April 22, 2016, you can’t help but feel the soul-stirring, high-energy and exhilarating Memphis R&B Soul sound that was once personified by the late great saxophonist King Curtis (Curtis Ousley) and the Kingpins. There is something about that Memphis R&B Soul music that makes you want to “get on up” as James Brown once attested. Michael Lington has no problem mastering his horn in Second Nature and you will “get on up.”
Lington, the 46 year-old Danish-American contemporary saxophonist, songwriter and recording artist, and the grandson of Danish composer and band leader Otto Lington, features some of the who’s who in the music business on the Second Nature album including Booker T. Jones, The Dap Kings, Ray Parker, Jr., Taylor Dayne and Brian Culbertson.
Multi-Platinum and GRAMMY-winning guitarist Ray Parker, Jr. tags up with The Dap Kings and Booker T to create a memorable tribute to Beale Street, the opening track. Its atmosphere is typical of the driving exhilarating, funky high-energy quality that Lington is known for producing. This piece has a distinct avant-garde and free improvised feel about it.
The same approach acquired a special focus in Lington’s rendition of the Stone Cool track, in which you have those Memphis horns and Ray Parker letting out some nasty, spiky little packets of compressed rage and soulful jubilation! There are some gruesome 20- or 30- second collisions of ranting alto sax, crashing speed-metal guitar, smooth lounge club music, and caterwauling, blood-curdling percussions.
Lington_Press Photo 02In order to produce an album of this magnitude, you need the help of a seasoned professional – and that’s what Lington found in producer/songwriter Barry Eastmond, who has produced for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Brandy, Kenny Lattimore, and Al Jarreau. Like the dynamic duo of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, Lington and Eastmond came together and found the right mix and groove which authenticated their command of the materials for Second Nature.
The Lington/Eastmond superb arrangements reminds us why Lington is a well-recognized and respected exponent of the sax-led electronic funk, and who has commanded center stage whenever and where ever he performs. His penetrating tone and the barely controlled hysteria of his playing has made him popular with audiences and garnered the respect of a wide range of musicians such as, Michael Bolton, Aaron Neville, Randy Crawford, Bobby Caldwell, Kenny Lattimore, Ryan Shaw, Joan Sebastian, Christian Castro and many others.
Second Nature is Lington’s most impressive album to date, and serves as one measure of how quickly he has advanced since the 1990s. Lington’s candid willingness to communicate his joy in playing on this album is enchanting as his extraordinary talent. When listening to the 12 tracks on this album you will discover that Lington forges a communal glow, he makes it easy to forget that playing Memphis R&B Soul is hard work, while at the same time he takes Coleman Hawkins’ advice to “master your horn” very seriously.
Concert Review: Saxophonist Michael Lington Brings Soul to Spaghettini.
By Paul Zahn on February 23, 2015 Live Out Loud Los Angeles
Nestled in the heart of Beverly Hills, Calif., Spaghettini and The Dave Koz Lounge offers world-class entertainment and inventive California cuisine with an Italian flare.
The venue’s calendar is filled with a wide array of talent but one musician is the one to watch at Spaghettini. Saxophonist Michael Lington brings his monthly show to life and wows the crowd with a blend of modern music and a retro-vibe.
A music industry veteran, Lington crafted an exuberant show filled with surprises and special guest vocalists.
“The first half of the show is my show then I start bringing up different guest artists,” Lington says. “They are friends of mine in the industry and I invite them down to do a couple songs. That way it has a new fresh spin to it.”
The vocal guests have included everyone from Elliot Yamin to Randy Crawford to pop diva, Taylor Dayne.
The acclaimed saxophonist is also promoting his latest work in the studio.
“I have a new album out called Soul Appeal. It is a soul-influenced album,” he says.
The show is a true thematic reflection of the album.
Lington adds, “My show is a soul based show. We have a full horn section and guest singers so it will be high energy, a lot of fun and just surprises.”
For his February show, the guest vocalist was Taylor Dayne. She was a wonderful surprise and left the crowd wanting more. Lington would not reveal who his upcoming guest vocalists would be.
“We are trying to out-do ourselves each time we do it. We have to keep it a little bit of a surprise,” he says.
Lington’s intimate yet lively show is quickly becoming a Los Angeles must see. The next opportunity to experience Lington and his gifted talented friends is on March 12th. The show is not to be missed, as you never know who will drop by.
CD Review: Soul Appeal
Posted October 31, 2014
Review by Carol Handley – Smooth In Seattle
With seven solo albums already to his name, Danish sax-man Michael Lington has been an ever present on the contemporary jazz scene for the past twenty-five years. His latest CD, ‘Soul Appeal’, finds him in the company of legendary writer and producer Barry Eastmond with whom he has discovered a vibe firmly rooted in 60’s and 70’s Memphis soul. Not only that, joining him in the venture is an all-star cast of performers including Kenny Lattimore, Ryan Shaw, Freddie Washington, Paul Jackson Jr., Ray Parker Jr., and Lenny Castro for a body of work that will be essential listening for all those who like their smooth jazz spiced with a modicum of soul.
Take for example the funky, Stax-flavored, title cut that, complete with vibrant sax and sizzling brass, really sets the stage or the infectious and bluesy ‘Taking Off’ which Lington describes as the easy rolling centerpiece of what, with the project, he was trying to achieve.
Lington is also in big, ballsy form for ‘Uptown Groove’ which includes dramatic injections of both organ and Fender Rhodes while elsewhere the silky and romantic ‘Manhattan Nights’ is added to in no small measure by guitar from Phil Hamilton that is reminiscent of Steve Cropper at his best.
Despite a proliferation of retro-cool originals, Lington still finds time to reimage the King Curtis classics ‘In The Pocket’ and ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ for which a playful rap by Teddy Campbell approximates the way Curtis introduced each instrument into the mix on his original recording.
Later, the sensitive yet bluesy ‘Going Home’ paves the way to the altogether more jaunty ‘Double Down’ (where Lington really gets on a jazzy roll) and, as ‘Soul Appeal’ glides to its emotional conclusion, Lington uses the appropriately titled ‘Follow Your Heart’ to tug urgently at the listener’s sensitivities.
In terms of personal favorites its ‘Gonna Love You Tonight’ (featuring Lattimore’s velvety tones) that grabs the accolades whilst another track that provides a sultry throw back to the heyday of classic soul is ‘Leave Me You’ with vocalist Ryan Shaw firmly center stage.
Press: Beverly Hills Courier
Posted Monday, Aug. 4 – 12:03 PM
Story by Steve Simmons – Beverly Hill Courier
Michael Lington is a busy guy. He’s a saxophonist with a burgeoning music career that’s gaining him recognition and fans, and an entrepreneur with his own line of wine and cigars.
His eighth studio recording “Soul Appeal” was released to acclaim this spring and numbers from it have climbed up and stayed on the charts.
He will sample selections (plus hits from his previous albums) for fans at the Long Beach Jazz Festival, Saturday, Aug. 9 at Rainbow Lagoon Park on the backside of the Long Beach Convention Center on Shoreline Drive.
Jazz fans will hear the title track from the album, which has been #1 on the Groove Jazz Music Chart for an unprecedented 16 weeks; and the second single, Uptown Groove, which was released to contemporary jazz radio last week and has been getting lots of air play. “It’s exciting to be embraced by radio,” says Lington. “Hearing your songs never gets old.” He’s often heard on The Wave (94.7 FM) and on Sirius’ Watercolors station
For this latest album he wanted to get in touch with his love of American rhythm and blues and soul. Lington and R&B/pop producer Barry Eastman wrote more than 40 songs for the CD, working to recreate the “‘60’s and ‘70’s Memphis soul vibe.” “We wanted the music to feel authentic,” says Lington. “It took a lot of writing to nail the sound.”
So how does a kid growing up in Copenhagen learn to love American music? A link is his grandfather, bandleader, composer and violinist Otto Lington, who loved and performed with American artists like Shirley Bassey, Josephine Baker and Fats Waller; and who recorded more than 300 albums with his orchestra.
Hearing his grandfather’s stories and listening to his records exposed young Michael to the American sound. He remembers being at his grandfather’s house when the senior Lington got a call from the Mills Brothers. “They just called to see how he was doing. I was in complete awe,” Lington recalls.
His own musical revelation came when as a teenager he discovered the soul and rhythm and blues sounds of American ‘60’s stars like Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett and the ‘70s with idols like Marvin Gaye and Al Green.
Until then, he’d studied classical music and played the clarinet in the Tivoli Boys Guard, a miniature queen’s guard and marching band of kids 8-16, that even played for the Danish queen’s 50th birthday.
“After I listened to David Sanborn, who was influenced by King Curtis, (another of my heroes) I lost interest in classical music and never wanted to play the clarinet again,” says Lington. “I had such a strong reaction. I said, ‘that’s my style and that’s my calling right there’.”
He started thinking about coming to America as a teenager; and made the journey to L.A. at 21 “with just my sax and a suitcase. “I thought ‘how bad can it be?’ I soon realized that the level of musicianship and artistry is so high here.” So he started practicing—hours a day.
Playing a New Year’s Eve gig at Spago he met singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Caldwell (What You Won’t Do for Love) and ended up touring with him for four years.
Record scouts saw the audience reaction he got at one concert, resulting in a contract with Nu Groove in 1996. He’s been with several companies since then.
Lington has also been a special guest with for other performers including Barry Manilow, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford and Michael Bolton. On Bolton’s tour, he played more than 300 shows in more than 50 countries.
But he strives for a schedule that allows him to tour and then be home for a while. “I’m lucky.” he admits. After living in L.A. for 23 years, five years ago he visited a friend who lived in Beverly Hills “and fell in Iove—here you can walk to restaurants, cafés and parks.”
A “fan of a relaxing cigar,” and a member of the Grand Havana Cigar Room on Cañon; seven years ago, Lington hosted a party where he wanted to give out his own line of stogies. A cigar-distributor friend helped him contact a company in Honduras. “The minimum order was 4,000,” says Lington, “so I said we better make these cigar really good if I end up having to smoke them all.” The smokes went over so well, that they decided to keep the company going “and we’re adding more blends for more of a selection,” Lington said.
In December, he will be one of the stars of the Havana Jazz Experience, a cultural exchange trip “that will focus on the rhythms and beats of Cuba.” Participants will learn about the gardens, art and architecture of UNESCO Heritage sites of Old Havana and Vinales and meet locals.
Lington, who beame a citizen in 2008, has returned to his native Denmark five times to perform for the royal family, including at the wedding reception of Crown Prince Frederik, the future king. “It was amazing,” recalls Lington. “It looked like a movie set; it was a surreal experience.”
His wine line came about when he was approached by Solana Cellars in Paso Robles, which knew about his music and cigars, for a joint venture. So he visited the central California town and wine center to talk. The nearly two-two-year venture has resulted in “Soloist,” a viognier; and “Lington Trio,” a blend of malbec, petit verdot and petite sirah. Coming soon will be a reserve cabernet. The wines are now sold at Nic’s, Mastro’s and coming up at the new Spaghettini and Dave Koz Lounge to open soon on Cañon.
’’It’s designed as supper club where music is the main feature,” says Lington, who has a 20-year relationship with the owners. He will be hosting a monthly evenings there. “They’ll be late night jam sessions in a cool and classy club, reminiscent of The China Club, where you never know who’s going to show up.”
He balances his career and myriad interests “with lots of help, and people to run the companies,” says Lington. “I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘how are we going to make this happen? What’s the next step?’”
CD Review: Soul Appeal
By Chelsea Lewis thecelebritycafe.com, 7/24/2014
Author Rating: 4.0 Stars – Very Good
The most recent release from Michael Lington, Soul Appeal, contains elements of jazz, instrumentals and soulful melodies that really bring this album to life.
Soul Appeal has strong jazz influences and that is the main highlight of every track on the album. The album has a way of combining these more classical elements of music into a way that feels modern and upbeat.
The record also features a variety of other musicians that come together to form a jam band session feel. So, it feels organic that these artists come together in order to produce this high quality of musicianship. Lington plays the alto and tenor sax on the record, which stand out on every track. Other musicians that are featured on Soul Appeal include Shedrick Mitchell, Paul Jackson Jr., Ray Parker Jr. and Phil Hamilton.
At times, the album does have a very classic, throwback feel when the alto and tenor sax highlighted like on tracks like “Manhattan Nights” and “Follow Your Heart,” but overall the album has a more modern and strong creative tone that can be felt in the musicianship and arrangements.
The tracks that will really appeal to more Top 40-driven fans will be “Gonna Love You Tonite” and “Leave Me You,” which features the vocals of Ryan Shaw. “Gonna Love You Tonite” features the vocal work of Kenny Lattimore.
It is refreshing to hear the influences and styles that are often sampled for popular songs in 2014 brought back to life in its full glory once again.
Other stand out tracks on the album include “Uptown Groove,” “Going Home” and “Double Down.”
CD Review: Soul Appeal
Michael Lington grips it and rips it for his finest release yet!
By: Brent Black www.criticaljazz.com
Smooth jazz is essentially dead, easy listening for those struggling with turning forty. Michael Lington has found his wheelhouse with a retro soul approach amped up for the next generation. Fun, funky and fierce may best describe a project that embraces retro soul but with a contemporary freshness that includes two stand out vocal tracks “Gonna Love You Tonight” from Kenny Lattimore and “Leave Me You” with vocalist Ryan Shaw. Memphis Soul has been in the jazz witness protection program for far too long. Granted this is not a new approach but this is one of the more solid efforts to kick start what is arguably the backbone of American music. The reharm on the King Curtis tune “Memphis Soul Stew” includes a high octane horn blast from the past and a lyrical sense of purpose hard to beat.
Contemporary instrumental has become predictable with little changing over the last thirty years other than technology. Michael Lington went old school with new cool results and a sound that puts the sonic paddles to genre long since left for dead by radio programmers and critics alike. A live band allows the warmth and intensity of Lington’s style and execution to reach new heights. This particular release is a Michael Lington joint from start to finish. Lighting in a bottle is rare but you can find it here. The sound is every bit the winner as Lington’s performance. No music should every sound as though it has been sanitized for your protection. It’s o.k. to get a little dirty!
CD Review: Soul Appeal
MICHAEL LINGTON’S SOUL APPEAL: HOPEFULLY ONE IN A LONG LIST
Danish-American saxophonist Michael Lington has made an entire career of titillating ears with songs suave and flavorsome. Seven albums and numerous radio hits to his credit, Lington, whose musical path features no shortage of intrepid moves and defiant choices, recently released yet another exploratory venture titled Soul Appeal, which oozes with charm and sophistication. Delightful and restorative, this opus acts as an anxiolytic, a balm smeared on septic wounds, a therapeutic cocktail.
The grand majority of the tracks are purely instrumental and prove to be more than mere displays of technical prowess; rather they richly fuse funky, bluesy sonorities and pay homage to all the celebrated musicians of the 60’s and 70’s Memphis soul scene. Michael Lington indulges in an exercise he is not utterly unfamiliar with: take something he adores and make it his own.
Groove-infused “Soul Appeal,” “Taking Off” and “Uptown Groove” open the album and exhibit a musical lushness that is remarkable; we applaud Lington’s generosity in producing an ambience propitious to exchange and musical abandon. Never once does his sax playing encumber or overpower the other musicians’ parts, allowing for a rock-solid circle to form, one rich in slickness and exuberance. In “Gonna Love You Tonight,” Lington’s sax arbors a more romantic suit, and accompanies brilliant R&B vocalist Kenny Lattimore, as any gentleman would, letting the former voice an amorous ode to his or desired beloved, never interrupting, only egging on with the aid of stirringly smooth sax lines – the ideal wingman! “Manhattan Nights” transports us to a 90’s dim and smoky jazz bar in New York, women dancing in retro clothes while men eye them; dulcet and a tad lascivious, this track concludes the first half of Soul Appeal on a particularly hot note.
“In the Pocket,” a reworking of King Curtis’ classic, is nicely jazzy and features a both ardent and nuanced saxophonic solo. “Leave Me You,” a powerful ballad led by Georgian soul musician Ryan Shaw, is another example of Michael Lington’s illustrious musicianship: he withdraws when needed, playing down musical agility in favor of emotional wealth. “Going Home” keeps it home with a languid sax lead in this savory ballad, replete with fits of élan and moments of poignant nostalgia. “Double Down” further grounds Lington’s dexterity and band spirit while “Memphis Soul Stew,” another inventive variant of King Curtis’ hit, establishes him as an eminent instrumentalist whose artistic possibilities are infinite. The album finishes on “Follow Your Heart,” a slow and melancholy piano-sax track, which, although devoid of lyrics, seems to convey untold feelings and sensations, a last appeal to soulful and authentic music.
Soul Appeal demonstrates Lington’s savoir-faire as well as his penchant for risk-taking and gathers, much to our delight, an assembly of gifted artists in this thrill-packed opus. While the album excels at reenacting the immediacy and flavor of Soul wonders past, it does at the detriment of variety, causing it, on a second hearing, to lose a soupcon of its initial appeal.
CD Review: Soul Appeal
Review By: Andrew Reeves
Michael Lington’s eighth studio album finds the Danish-born saxophonist returning to his roots. Soul Appeal, releasing April 8th on Copenhagen Music is a hybrid of contemporary jazz mixed with a fusion of R&B and soul.
Since his debut in the United States in the late 1990’s, Lington has made a name for himself. He tapped the legendary producer Barry Eastmond, and collaborated with some of the biggest names in R&B, including Kenny Lattimore (Gonna Love You Tonight), and Ryan Shaw (Leave Me You). Soul Appeal doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t, nor does it attempt to err on the side of modern jazz as it has always been. Lington brings something remarkably fresh to the table, inviting a younger generation of jazz lovers to sample music inspired by an era when Sam Cooke and James Brown were in their prime.
In addition to the fun loving, groovy title track, songs like Manhattan Nights slip between the chaos of an ordinary work day and gives you something to smile about. The finger-snapping rhythm in Uptown Groove will keep you focused and alert during the all too common afternoon slump. Going Home makes the five o’clock rush bearable with Lington’s undisputed skill on sax, and the sensual echoes of Freddie Washington’s bass guitar.
Soul Appeal marries all the elements that keeps jazz relevant in a musical landscape inundated by the mainstream. The album is not only a lot of fun to listen to, but proof in itself of Lington’s impeccable skill at creating the kind of sound many artists attempt and very few rarely achieve.
Song Review: “Gonna Love You Tonite” from Soul Appeal
For several years and seven albums, Michael Lington has been pleasing contemporary jazz fans with his expressive saxophone playing. But his fans may not have expected the kind of soulful turn he is making on his upcoming album, Soul Appeal. Working with a “who’s who” of R&B greats, from Ray Parker, Jr. to Nathan East to Barry Eastman, Lington is making a very soulful statement with this fine album.
And Michael leads off the album with a great cut featuring vocalist supreme Kenny Lattimore. Check out “Gonna Love You Tonight” and hear how well these two artists work together!
Concert Review: Michael Lington Concert in Dallas
Bishop Arts Theater, Dallas, TX.
By James Shatley
For me, jazz is a visceral and emotional art form. In other words, I feel it in my bones and heart. The ability for the artist to emote their music through their instrument often defines how much I enjoy a performance and this was on full display Saturday night at Bishop Arts Theater with Michael Lington.
For those that aren’t as familiar with his music and style (I confess that I fell into that category), Michael Lington is a Dane by birth, having relocated to Los Angeles in 1990 to learn his craft and jump start his music career. He has a pedigree, with his grandfather being the jazz pioneer and composer, Otto Lington. His style is cool and upbeat.
Prior to the show, I met Michael briefly and was taken in by his warmth. He is also a cigar aficionado & entrepreneur, which I found interesting but quite simpatico. The only thing missing it seems would be a private label wine. Having talked a bit about his music and about his cigar business, he was off to do the late set. His work with Michael Bolton and a who’s who of the smooth jazz elite, names like Greg Karukas, Randi Crawford, Dave Koz, Jeff Golub etc. along with his success on the smooth jazz charts really set up my anticipation for the evening.
The Bishop Arts Theater is a small 170 seat theater that was filled to near capacity for the late show. Having been there for other jazz concerts, I believe that the promoter of the series, Cameron Smith has the perfect venue for Michael Lington’s intimate, lively sounds because they were certainly coming from the stage Saturday night. Michael was capably backed by a ensemble of very capable musicians, cherry picked for the show from various bands in the area including Erykah Badu’s & Roy Hargrove’s bands. I found it rather amazing that both Michael and Marc Antoine rehearsed with the ensemble the same day starting at noon, did the sound check at 5 p.m. and pulled off 2 shows with ours ending after midnight!
Michael Lington’s music is equal parts cool and killer, classic with pop overtones. It was a revelation to be uninitiated to his music; the impact was that much greater! His set was a 12 song set with most coming from his new disc, “Pure” – currently #3 on the Smooth Jazz charts. Hot selections included “Twice In A Lifetime” off 2002’s ‘Vivid’ which was inspired by Bob James & David Sanborn’s cover of “Maputo” which he seamlessly led into. His song “Road Trip” painted such a visual image in my head, I just sat back and closed my eyes and imagined jammin’ to the song, driving down PCH. His ability to speak through his sax and his energy on stage had the audience moving to every song he played. His syncopated, funky ditty – “Playtime” got people up out of their seats.
He had the audience fill out a slip and a lucky couple came up and he serenaded them with a Stevie Wonder tune and the couple and audience loved it! It’s a mark of a fine musician to be able to make all in the audience feel connected and he certainly hit the mark during the set. The couple were obviously enjoying the moment, playing to them both.
Toward the end, he brought Marc Antoine out on stage for an impromptu swing shuffle jam that all took turns throwing down some fine improv. He obviously has complete command over his sax and his talents were showcased often on this jam. He ended his set with a local vocalist joining him on stage to throw down a cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” which was a great way to end his set.
For me, not knowing about his music was a blessing. It gave me a fresh, untainted approach to listening to his music for the first time. I don’t know how he’s missed my jazz radar but I assure you, his album “Pure” is in my A rotation for the foreseeable future. If you have a chance to see him, don’t miss the opportunity. He more than delivered a great show and if you consider how it all came together, it’s even more impressive! Thank you Michael, for a giving us all an evening of great jazz music. You have a new fan!
Concert Review: Michael Lington PURE CD Release Party/Concert in Las Vegas
Written by Randall Parrish
The Chrome Showroom located inside the Santa Fe Station Hotel and Casino in northwest Las Vegas was the intimate venue for an exceptional evening of contemporary jazz music as saxophone showman Michael Lington performed for a sold-out crowd. The event was a concert/party in celebration of the release of Pure, his scintillating new album.
The anticipation of the audience was clearly evident as the lights dimmed and a fog machine began releasing thick plumes of smoke onto the stage. The supporting cast of musicians soon appeared from the wings to begin laying down a heavy groove. The dapperly attired Lington strode out amidst loud cheering and joined in on his saxophone. “Still Thinking Of You,” a heavily R&B influenced up-tempo song co-written by Lington with Brian Culbertson was an inspired choice to get the party started. This lively funk-filled tune was a major hit when it was released about a decade ago, making the Top 5 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts. It still sounded fresh and powerful with sustained building intensity and was an early indication that this talented group of musicians possessed chops galore. Guitarist Randy Jacobs utilized his Fender Telecaster to put his stamp on the song with a tasty tap lead-guitar solo.
The second song played was from the new album and titled “Playtime.” It featured a driving retro R&B flavored sound with a strutting bass line from Dwayne “Smitty” Smith, potent drumming from Chad Wright, and a bouncy instrumental dialog between Jacobs and Lington. Each instrumentalist played an integral role in this composition with Michael proclaiming afterwards “This song is aptly titled.” In past Las Vegas performances Lington has displayed his charismatic persona via engaging lengthy personal antidotes. This evening was somewhat different, in that he was pretty much “sticking to business,” eager to proudly showcase as much of his new release as possible in this restricted time allotment. The third song presented was the memorable “You And I,” the optimistic upbeat lead-off track from Heat. Lington played lovely compelling long silky-smooth notes on his horn while Smitty exhibited his effective slap bass technique. Kevin Flournoy’s sparkling keyboard runs added wonderful color to the familiar breezy melody. As I had mentioned in my review of Michael’s last visit to the Santa Fe Station; he always brings A-list sidemen to enhance the listening experience for his loyal followers. Three of these abundantly talented musicians (Jacobs, Flournoy, and Smitty) had been part of Michael’s most recent unforgettable Chrome Showroom appearance. In addition to that tremendous trio, also present on this evening was energetic drummer Chad Wright. Wright, like Lington, had been touring the world behind singer Michael Bolton. Together these five players blended into a cohesively masterful ensemble showing artistic depth and range, in addition to tons of funk.
While the band took a brief respite, Lington spoke of being influenced by jazz icon David Sanborn and making his life altering change from clarinet to saxophone. He related that his first single, “Twice In A Lifetime,” was patterned after one of Sanborn’s compositions on Double Vision. The smoky blues atmospheric number piloted by Lington’s warm melodic drifts and glides cast an enchanting spell that ensnared the audience. The expert work by Flournoy, Wright, Smith and Jacobs were key ingredients to the smooth sashay enthrallment.
Lington’s seminal album Stay With Me yielded three massive singles to contemporary jazz radio, and on this evening he was able to find time to fit all three into the playlist. The first of these played was “Pacifica.” Michael poured his passionate heart out on this song, one of my personal favorites. He created a mood akin to a leisurely moonlight drive down an oceanside road with the convertible top down and the caress of warm gentle breezes in your hair.
An impromptu appeal by Michael to play “Happy Birthday” for one of his fans was met with curious looks by his band-mates. Obviously unprepared, they relented and oblige with an off the cuff, yet professional, ad lib that was spontaneous and nonetheless beautiful.
Then it was time to refocus the spotlight on Pure and the first single that was already residing in the Top Ten in the Billboard charts. “Roadtrip” is the title of the composition and the guitar mastery of Lee Ritenour is featured on the album rendering. This night the chore of matching the consummate skill of “Captain Fingers” is handed over to Randy Jacobs and his exquisite Telecaster. Jacobs and Lington square off with stunning and expressively dynamic shows of power on their respective instruments. The song is simply magnificent and the entire group is onboard for the outstanding ride. Another new song, “The Serenade,” provides an opportunity to slow the pace down just a bit with a soul ballad that features a bit of Rolling Stones flavored rhythm section and guitar work. As introductions of the band were handled, Michael spoke of some the impressive guest talent assembled for Pure. Among those named were Michael Bolton, Brian Culbertson, Ray Parker, Jr., Jeff Golub, Paul Jackson, Jr., Jonathan Butler, Paul Brown, and Rickey Minor & The Tonight Show Band. Yes, the sax man from Denmark has many notable prodigious friends. He also mentioned that the album was recorded live in the studio, a “pure” process that isn’t used much nowadays. That “organic” method of recording allows the musicians to feed off of each other, gain inspiration, and freely improvise to help propel the recording to fulfill its crafty potential and personality.
The energy level then reached new heights when Lington called out vocalist Mabvuto Carpenter to sing the Jr. Walker old-school classic “Shotgun.” Lington attempted to blow the house down, and Mabvuto was downright spirited being blessed with a rare voice that blends gospel, R&B, and rock and roll into a soulful mixture that has to be heard to be appreciated. As great as the original masterpiece was, this interpretation by these inspired artists was just unbelievable. Smitty’s bass was booming, Wright’s drums were bashing, and Jacobs and Flournoy pushed the pulsated melody while Lington and Mabvuto vied for the limelight. Mabvuto remained on stage to sing “Baker Street,” and his versatile voice showed traces of some Stevie Wonder inflections for anyone who might doubt his adaptability. Lington also shone on this Jerry Rafferty song that reminded everyone in attendance that the saxophone was indeed the forceful impetus behind that hit song.
A vigorous drum solo by Chad Wright followed that could be filmed as an advertisement for Yamaha Drums and Zildjian Cymbals. Highly visible throughout the show for his incredible power, technique, and feel, Wright used this solo opportunity to display his skill at resourceful, imaginative and commanding drumming, ending with flashy drumstick twirls at blinding speed.
A pair of Michael’s all-time biggest hits (both from Stay With Me) came next. “Two Of A Kind” was greeted with loud cheers of fan appreciation after just a few notes. A mid-tempo charmer of a tune, Smitty again shined with his slap thumb bass play, as did Jacobs with a brief, but brilliant, guitar solo. Both complimented Lington’s impassioned sax work perfectly. “Show Me,” another Brian Culbertson composition, never fails to remain refreshing as a summer’s breeze. The sax refrain is so memorable that Michael always has the audience hum along at some point in his performances of the song.
When Lington and company were applauded back for a thoroughly deserved encore, he stated that he and the band had “worked something up backstage.” They proceeded to throw down a funk/jazz jam boogie-woogie that allowed each artist to solo with improvised variations on the theme. Kevin Flournoy was first to fly as he somewhat reluctantly displayed his abundant keyboard prowess for the appreciative crowd. Lington took his powerful turn with veins strained and face reddened as his full, warm and sumptuous tone is never lost, even during some dazzlingly speedy passages. Smith, who held down the bottom with his funky-grooved bass play all evening, stepped forward with a stirring blues steeped variation on the idea and literally made his bass talk. Randy Jacobs undertook his spotlight showcase with a fast strum and soon was burning up the guitar strings. He tossed off his hat and began spinning in tight circles as he became a whirling dervish relentlessly dischargeing blistering notes from his ax. After Jacobs was completed, Lington astutely remarked “now that’s a hard act to follow!”
Michael arranged two stools on the front of the stage and invited the “birthday girl” to take the stage to be serenaded. The song chosen was “Everything Must Change,” the beautiful standard that has become a staple of his live shows. A tender ballad, the song first appeared on the Body Heat release by Quincy Jones. Over the years it has been covered by numerous musical giants such as Barbara Streisand, Lou Rawls, George Benson, David Sanborn and Phil Perry. None of those artists can quite live up to the gorgeous loving treatment that Michael Lington always lavishes on the tune. The crystalline purity of his notes softly shimmered with a romantic excellence so soothing that time almost seemed to stand still.
Lington then proclaimed that it was time for the evening’s final song and he once again sought the vocal talent of Mabvuto to join the festivities. Al Green’s soul epic “Love and Happiness” was a joyous funky triumph for the ages. Long ago when I saw this song performed by David Sanborn and Hiram Bullock I thought their magnificent performance could never be topped. I was wrong. The all stops out treatment by Michael Lington and band was superlative. Preeminent professional photographer Cary Gillaspie, who was in the vacant seat beside me for the encores, took my notepad and wrote Funkieeeeeee! (capital F and lots of e’s). That observation hit the nail directly on the head.
Michael Lington said during the show that he loves performing in Las Vegas and at the Santa Fe Station in particular. It’s no small wonder with an excellent sound system in place there, the cozily close environment, plus the fact that Las Vegas returns the love to him at every opportunity. Michael left the audience ecstatically thrilled by his performance and his new album; and, as always, wanting more. In summation, Michael Lington came to Vegas and rolled the dice with his concert heavily stacked with selections from his new album Pure, and everyone won big.