BWW Review: SAVION GLOVER & GREGORY PORTER - SOPHISTICATED RHYTHMS N' JAZZY BLUES NAT KING COLE STYLE at The Hollywood Bowl
He's out there on stage, on a raised dance platform at The Hollywood Bowl, center, downstage, in a simple T-shirt and pants, into himself, making sounds like a woodpecker, a train; a horse trotting,... maybe there are fireworks going off? Maybe gunshots, or a rapid -fire AK-47, even. No. The sounds are all coming from the bottom of his feet! He is like lightning with tap shoes on. Like bursts of electrical currents that make all kinds of sounds. Snap, crackle, pop, step-step, shuffle, ball-change, flap, flap, then into a tirade of tap accents too fast to count out or give a name to.
Savion Glover is what Robin Williams is to comedy ~ a-stream-of-consciousness improviser who has mastered his craft so completely he could probably phone in his performance and still be brilliant. He transfers rhythms automatically from his head to his toes, literally, although it can't be seen. But it's really more from the heart, or spirit, that sends his performance further beyond practiced routines into on-the-spot and in-the-moment rhythms; that's how we hear what he feels and expresses, through those amazing feet.
He takes turns jamming and riffing with each musician on each instrument on stage. Beginning with the sax player, he either echos a phrase played, or does a counter-rhythm to what that rhythm is. Sometimes he's so into what he's feeling that he gets into his own rhythmic groove that at one moment sounds loud and quick, then morphs into a completely different feel, become slower and quieter. He combines these techniques with his grasp of the Art he is performing. He mixes styles of tap together as well. He's in and out of them so fast, you don't realize it until later. It's amazing to watch. You don't want to look away for a moment 'cause there's so much goin' on up there.
His next duo is with the pianist, and altogether new feels of rhythms emerge. A lot of syncopation with each other, really working off of each other. So in tune with what they are creating, just the two of them. He tempers the sounds he makes with what instrument he is dancing along with.
When the bass player came back in, Savion did a whole section just using the heels and balls of his feet to make a menagerie of different sounding accents, rhythms changing constantly; but he takes you with him all the way. What an awesome talent!
He was a protege' of the late Gregory Hines and Mr. Henry LaTang when he was just a kid. Can't beat that for training to become a tap dancer! He's now 44 and one of the best tappers in the world. A master tapper. His credits are voluminous; "The Tap Dance Kid," Jelly's Last Jam," and "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk" on Broadway. The latter he helped create, choreographed and starred in. He filmed the movie "Tap," when he was a teenager, with all of his idols, and has had recurring appearances on Sesame Street, plus being the live-dancing motion capture for the wonderful character of Mumble the penguin for both "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2," movies, which he also choreographed.
He calls his style "free-style hard core." Every so often he goes off on a rhythm tangent, a cappella, and kills it. Trills, a lot of what we used to call nerve-taps, spins, with so many nuances of sound that come from those Happy Feet, it's dizzying. Each instrument he jams with affects the sounds and rhythms he makes. He's really like another drummer, pounding out the beat and playing with clusters of paradiddles, cramp rolls, pullbacks, riffles, time steps, paddles and rolls, driving the energy fast-forward continually.
There's a great section where three ladies come out tapping, one at a time, powerhouses all, which turns into a challenge of each creating the same rhythm, but with totally different steps from one another, then blending in with Savion for some toe-tapping slick turns and all go tapping off, stage right.
And a moment when, and it is very evident to the audience, his T-shirt is dripping with sweat and forming puddles on stage, he gives us a choice, holding them up, of which T-shirt he should change into. The first one has a girl singer on the front, and option B, which we unanimously voted for, was a picture of Barak Obama with the word MISSING, underneath. With a loud roar, we all felt the pain, in unison... as he dons the shirt, and goes back to work.
His excellent 5-piece group of musicians are always right there with him, on and in between every beat. They are introduced, individually by Savion. On Horns is Patience Higgins, Drums, Marcus Gilmore, Danny Mixon on Piano and Conrad Adderley on Stand-Up Bass. They are all fabulous jazz Artists and keep the performance cohesive and well-tuned, so to speak. Lastly, he introduces himself as Gregory Hines. :)
Savion takes a rhythm and a melody the bass player (or clarinet, et al) plays and adds to that same rhythm with different takes each time, constantly adding on, then changing, sometimes double-timing the beat, just in the groove, then throws in some nerve taps that just drive you wild; one foot answering the other, like his feet are having their own conversation with each other, with jazzy accents and punctuations. It's a sight to behold, and to hear, in the cooled off air in the Amphitheater that is the Hollywood Bowl.
Gregory Porter: NAT KING COLE & ME
If you like classy jazz and blues, lovingly remember Nat King Cole and his style, and hearing a beautiful live orchestra playing, Gregory Porter is your man. Vince Mendoza conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra with finesse and aplomb, and Gregory sings one glorious tune after another, starting out with "Mona Lisa." It's a sit back, relax and just enjoy it all, rest of the evening. He has a deep, rich voice, sounding very much like the great Nat King Cole and the pipes to sustain those ending notes with ease.
"Good Morning, Heartache," and "But Beautiful" are interspersed with dialogue about being a little obsessed with Nat King Cole from the time he was 6 or 7 years old. He definitely has stuck to his guns and has the man down, interpretation-wise as well as vocally. "The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn," included a flowing, luxurious violin and string section, he sings of "Fools and Kings," from "Nature Boy," that "L-O-V-E, is Made For You and Me," in a very jazzy tempo with a great sax solo, "Quiza's, quiza's quiza's" sung in Spanish, in a smooth cha-cha tempo, and a gorgeous "Miss Otis Regrets," composed by Cole Porter, that the orchestra fills the night air with, a dramatic score and impeccable timing by Gregory with much emotion.
He grew up with no father, so at a young age, he latched onto all that Nat King Cole stood for and he became, to him, like the father he never had. Excellent choice in role models! "Start All Over Again," "When Love Was King," where his bass tones and laid-back sound blended in with a smooth clarinet solo, "Sweet Lorraine," and "I Wonder Who My Daddy Is," a very moving and special ballad to him, "Go Ahead and Lie To Me," and a song he wrote, "Hey, Laura," a beautiful love song he sang with so much feeling. The orchestrations for the entire evening were just magnificent, framing his strong, assured, full voice perfectly.
He sang a charming, lovely "Smile" for the evening's finale, introduced his fabulous musicians; Chip Crawford on piano, Jahmal Nichols on bass and Emanuel Harrold on Drums, left the stage, and since nobody moved in the audience except to stand up and applaud, and the orchestra was still in place, he came back out for an encore, singing another song he wrote called "No Love Dying" ~ a romantic song refuting unhappiness and hopelessness, leaving us fulfilled, happy and content as we left the theater.
Photos by Erik Umphery