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For the 19th year, the Capital Jazz Festival has once again filled the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia Maryland with a full week-end of illustrious talent to the delight of fans in the DC Metro area. This year’s line-up included Natalie Cole, Herbie Hankcock, Jonathan Butler, Will Dowing and Larry Graham.

This review is for the show on Sunday June 5, 2011.

Najee wowed the house with his dynamic show and his 5-piece band, including the charismatic guitarist Charles Johnson, whose electrifying chops were matched by his vibrant stage presence. The highlight of this set was the beautiful “Noah’s Ark.” During this number Najee displayed his mind-blowing circular breathing technique which allowed him to hold notes for incredible lengths of time. He came into the audience and serenaded us with melodious runs and thrilling passages.

Michael Franks graced the stage with his eternally young, ethereal voice. He really got the crowd grooving with hits like “The Lady Want To Know,” “Down In Brazil” and “Rainy Night In Tokyo”. The highlight was his duet with Veronica Nunn, who sang admirably on “When I Give My Love To You.”

One of the difficult aspects of the festival is that there are two stages playing at once. The great thing this year was that during set changes on the Pavillion Stage, there was a video feed from the Soul Stage. This is where we witnessed the multi-talented Ruben Studdard shine a light on his jazz chops. This young man delivered a riveting performance of “Summertime,” showing a side that is more polished and nuanced than the R&B hits he is known for. Then he topped it off with “Down Home Blues.” What a welcome surprise!

Next up was the most beloved and versatile Patti Austin. Sticking to songs from her latest Shanachie recording SOUND ADVICE, Austin gave a stellar performance full of humorous stories, risqué repartee and her trademark phenomenally effortless singing. Some of the favorites were Desiree’s hit “You Gotta Be” and Brenda Russell’s beautiful “A Little Bit Of Love” for which she enlisted the audience for background “do-do’s”. She told a story about being in the passport line at the airport behind a woman in a burka, and used her own moment of intolerance as an illustration and introduction to Paul McCartneys “Let ‘em In.” Closing her set with Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me,” she left the audience singing joyfully.

Take 6 brought their vocal dexterity to the stage next and gave a breathtaking set, starting with the rapid fire “So Much To Say”. Other standouts were “Spread Love” and “I L-O-V-E U.” The group was welcoming a new member, baritone Christian Dentley who was performing his first show with them. They took some time to spotlight some of their musical influences which ranged from Prince ( David Thomas singing “How Come U Don’t Call Me”) and The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”

Chrisette Michele was holding court meanwhile on the Soul Stage. She gave a glowing performance full of passion and fire. She was radiant in the early evening sun in a flowery short dress and a flattering haircut. Her performance of “Golden” which was arranged more rhythmically than the recorded version from her debut CD, was stellar. Closing her set with a rocking version of “Fragile” from her second CD, she left the crowd begging for more. Her band and background singers were in top form.

The final act on the Soul Stage was War, led by Lonnie Jordan. All the old school brothers and sisters were ready to party and sing along with their favorite jams “Cisco Kid,” “Slipping Into Darkness” and “Me and Baby Brother”. For their final selection, they had the whole park rocking to “Galaxy.”

Back at the Pavilion Stage, Incognito and Maysa closed out the night with a grooving party set. This time out band leader Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick came through with and 11 piece outfit and they were ready! They covered a range of solid tunes from early hits like “Colibri” and “Still A Friend of Mine” to cuts from their latest CD, “Lowdown” and “ Expresso Madureira.” Maysa and Christopher Ballin gave a beautiful reading of “Deep Water” (which has become her signature song). They shut the place down with a smoking “Nights Over Egypt” with Maysa and Lorraine Cato trading licks on the coda with a vengeance, offset by the blazing horn section (complete with comical choreography). Incognito is a show that is not to be missed.

Other acts that performed this day were Oli Silk and Kevin Whalum, Rahsaan Patterson, Oleta Adams and Chuck Brown.

About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.

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