Much like blockbuster action films and mystery thrillers suitable for beach reading, summer tours by big-name musicians tend to be geared toward providing popular entertainment, not profound artistic statements.
Such was the case with the concert by the jazz "supergroup" DMS on Sunday at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, as George Duke, Marcus Miller and former St. Louisan David Sanborn put on an entertaining, crisply paced two-hour show offering a sampling of familiar material from their respective catalogs, delivered with the expected first-rate musicianship but few real surprises.
The concert, which was presented by Jazz St. Louis, opened with second keyboardist Federico Pena and drummer Louis Cato taking the stage first and starting a stripped-down funk groove. Miller, Sanborn and Duke then made individual entrances, and the groove turned into a version of Sanborn’s “Run For Cover” that featured Duke (pictured) wailing on a guitar-style strap-on keyboard as well as some gritty riffing from Sanborn.
The saxophonist then took the lead for most of the rest of the first half of the show, playing tunes from his songbook including “Straight From The Heart,” “Lisa” and “Maputo,” which Miller wrote for Sanborn and pianist Bob James. Sanborn’s solos were typically concise, but also full of his characteristic verve and blues feel. The band, after a few minor sound adjustments, supplied tight and sympathetic accompaniment, with Duke adding more synth flash to “Straight From the Heart” and Miller soloing effectively on “Maputo” as well.
After an energetic “Chicago Song” that hewed closely to the recorded arrangement, the band stretched out a bit more on a medley of “Cobra,” written by Duke for Miles Davis’ album Amandla, and “Tutu,” penned by Miller as the title track for another Davis album. The latter included the evening’s only brief glimpse of straight-ahead swing, as Miller and Cato played with time feels during an extended solo by the bassist.
Duke followed that by showcasing his falsetto vocals on the slow-jam hits “Sweet Baby” and “No Rhyme, No Reason.” Then it was Miller’s turn once again, as he demonstrated his slapping-and-popping technique on his composition “Blast.” DMS kept the funk going for both the official closing number, Duke’s 1970s hit “Reach For It” and the encore, a version of E.U.’s “Da Butt,” which was written for them by Miller for use in Spike Lee’s movie School Days. At this point, it seemed a little bit like DMS had morphed from a collection of jazz greats into The World’s Most Over-Qualified Funk Cover Band, but most of the audience was having too good of a time to protest.
* All three of DMS’ principals seemed in a jocular mood, with Duke drawing laughs from the moment he came onstage, just for his facial expressions and body language. While introducing “Lisa,” Sanborn wisecracked that it was finally safe to play the song again, since the statute of limitations on resentment had expired; Duke then turned that around on him during the intro to “Sweet Baby,” noting that at least he’d had the good sense not to name his love song after a specific woman.
* The audience did witness what very well may have been one genuine first, as Miller managed to goad Sanborn into singing a verse of “Da Butt” not once, but twice, to the delight of the hometown crowd and the band alike. However, while Sanborn and the song both escaped relatively unscathed, don’t look for him to cut a vocal album anytime soon.
* Sanborn mentioned that his 91-year-old mother was in the wings watching the show, and after the end of the concert, Mrs. Sanborn came to edge of the stage, peeked out around the curtains for a moment, then walked out a couple of steps on stage and waved, to cheers and applause from the remaining audience members.
Run For Cover
Straight To The Heart
Brazilian Love Affair
No Rhyme, No Reason
Reach For It
Encore: Da Butt