Western Washington's first major outdoor music event of the summer is tomorrow at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, and if the weather holds out it should be a great afternoon.
The lineup is outstanding: The Yellowjackets, the gifted, adverturesome jazz quartet; Dave Koz, the jazz-rock saxophonist who's giving Kenny G a run for his money; Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, led by the innovative banjo virtuoso; and Grant Geissman, a guitarist known for his rich, warm tone.
The setting is pleasant, with its big green lawn and classic French chateau, and you can enjoy wines, by the glass or the bottle, from the Ste. Michelle Winery at the site. The show starts at 11:30 a.m., so bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while you're listening to the music.
The Yellowjackets arrive on the heels of their latest LP, "Greenhouse," which has been on top of the contemporary jazz charts since its release early this year. It's another fine work from the longtime group, which is well into its 12th year and has released 10 albums.
The title refers to the theme of the album - nothing less than the survival of the planet. It's not done in a heavy-handed way but rather with 10 fascinating, varied instrumentals influenced by world music, from African, Eskimo and Brazilian styles to American jazz and country music.
The band has widely broadened its musical vocabulary from its early days as a jazz and funk outfit. It still retains traces of those styles, but has incorporated a variety of other. It's always been at the forefront in the use of synthesizers and other such electronic instruments, but never in a gimmicky or showy way.
The band has undergone several personnel changes, and it seems every new member brings more influences into the group. Only two original Yellowjackets remain - keyboardist Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip. One of the new members, Bob Mintzer, who replaced six-year veteran Marc Russo, is a respected composer-arranger who plays sax, clarinet, flute and EWI (pronounced "eewee," for Electric Wind Instrument.) He contributed much to the new record. The group is rounded out by William Kennedy on drums.
Koz has a rising hit on radio and MTV called "Nothing But the Radio On," a funky tune featuring vocalist Joey Diggs. The song showcases Koz's clean, fluid sax lines, which have been heard on a variety of recordings, from U2's R&B remix of "When Love Comes to Town" (featuring B.B. King) to albums by Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Richard Marx, Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond.
He was a featured player in Tom Scott's band on the now-canceled "Pat Sajak Show." As demonstrated on that program, Koz is a physical player who really gets into it; he's all over the stage when he plays, and sometimes into the audience, too. In addition to his band, Koz will be accompanied by vocalist Phil Perry, who also has a promising new single called "Amazing Love," an R&B ballad from his debut album, "The Heart of the Man."
Fleck is one of the most intriguing musicians working today. He has single-handedly transformed the banjo into a contemporary instrument by adapting its unique tone to his fascinating style of music, which inhabits a twilight zone somewhere between jazz and bluegrass. On his two albums, "Bela Fleck & the Flecktones" and "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo," he is consistently amazing and delightful, as he blends a myriad styles into each composition.
His band is great, too, especially harmonica player Howard Levy, who also is adept at coaxing new sounds out of a traditional instrument (like Fleck, he sometimes uses synthesizers to do so.) Roy Wooten, known as "Future Man," plays drums electronically with his fingers on an electric guitar body he designed. His brother Victor Wooten plays bass.
Geissman, who has just released his second album, "Flying Colors," plays an acoustic nylon string guitar. Nylon strings have a warm, lyrical tone, and Geissman manipulates them with skill and subtlety. A former member of Chuck Mangione's group (he was featured on one of that band's best tunes, "Feel So Good"), he plays in a jazzy style, with traces of R&B.