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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisFor the 15th anniversary of his annual Christmas soiree, Dave Koz brought along an exceptional all-star cast that will no doubt go down as one of his best to date. Besides the famed sax man, this year's line-up at an essentially sold out Chicago Theatre included the remarkably diverse likes of drummer/vocalist Sheila E. (best known for her lengthy association with Prince, and more recently, Ringo Starr), pianist/composer David Benoit, singer Javier Colon (inaugural winner of NBC's "The Voice"), along with brand new singer/songwriter Margo Rey.
Together, the troupe turned in a festive blend of seasonal favorites and original hits that wasn't just high on energy, but also exuded a constant stream of style and elegance. After Koz and tour co-founder Benoit opened with a seasonal melody that included "The First Noel" and "Winter Wonderland," the set shifted between individual and collaborative moments that made the most of everyone's incomparable talents. For Koz, that meant putting his classy stamp on the tried and true "White Christmas," alongside his jovial original "Eight Candles (A Song For Hanukkah)," while also paying tribute to late great mentor Marvin Hamlisch with "The Way We Were" during a poignant acoustic set.
Other salutes included Colon offering up a few key lines of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and Benoit sharing memories of the recently departed Dave Brubeck, though the piano man's most impressive moment came when covering many of Vince Guaraldi's selections from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Vocally, Colon also sparkled on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror," but relatively basic newcomer Rey was much less connective across her current single "This Holiday Night." However, Sheila E. had no trouble captivating the crowd as she walked from the back of the historic theatre down the center aisle for a vivacious version of "Little Drummer Boy" (or "Girl" as Koz affectionately refereed to it).
But just because holiday music was the tour's main theme, everyone's solo selections were equally noteworthy and helped add constant variety to the fast-paced performance. Koz shined a spotlight on his new, career spanning "Live at the Blue Note Tokyo" CD by offering up vibrant arrangements of longtime staples like "Together Again" and "You Make Me Smile." Benoit dazzled with his breezy "Freedom At Midnight," though it was Sheila E.'s mega-smash "The Glamorous Life" that truly funked up the night with her free-flowing percussion, rippling rhythms and dance party decadence.
In fact, it's that spontaneity coupled with the ever-shifting round of engaging personalities that doesn't just allow Koz's Christmas tour to survive, but actually flourish even after so many years on road (and in the midst of an economic downturn no less). For nearly three hours, he and the whole gang helped fans forget their troubles, find healing through the music, and perhaps more importantly, highlight the true spirits of the season.
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