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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisFor an artist who's staged a similarly themed tour for the past 17 seasons, it's remarkable how much it changes from year to year with the 2014 installment of the Dave Koz & Friends Christmas soirée once again carving out a vast audience-spanning category all its own. Besides switching up the performances and special guests, the on stage setting was amongst the most gorgeous and cinematic thus far in what's become a firmly established annual tradition, which returned for the third consecutive year to the Chicago Theatre (whose classy ambiance and flawless acoustics only added to the enduring production).
This time out, the Grammy-nominated sax man started the show supporting his new duets disc "The 25th Of December" (Concord) all by his lonesome with a sentimental rendition of "The First Noel." Shortly thereafter, singer/guitarist (and faithful friend) Jonathan Butler came barreling down the aisles, encouraging all to stand as he passed prior to joining the headliner for the jazzy jam "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." Koz's eye for top notch talent (even those flying somewhat under the radar these days) continued with fellow Grammy nominee Maysa, the prolific solo artist, one time singer for British acid jazz act Incognito and frequent Stevie Wonder collaborator that securely sang somewhere in the middle of Patti Austin and Anita Baker.
In fact, her duet with Butler during Donny Hathaway's immortal "This Christmas" proved to be a first half highlight, while Koz later helped dust off "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" with a bright solo, saving the somewhat limited vocal range of Grammy Award winning guest Christopher Cross (not pictured). Even though the "Sailing" singer's pipes failed to match his brief but bountiful hit making heyday, Cross was sturdy enough behind the guitar at several points throughout the groove-saturated evening and was best served performing his well-intentioned troops tribute "We Will Remember You."
There was also some comic relief in the second act as Koz's crew came out in intentionally hideous Christmas sweaters to decorate for an acoustic set (including a tree cheekily operated by "The Clapper"), which found the entire cast acoustically navigating through a series of Yuletide standards, including Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmas Time Is Here." Butler later let his gospel roots shine through with a jaw-dropping rendition of "O Holy Night," followed by Koz's nod to his Hanukkah heritage "Eight Candles," kicked up with an extra notch of funk from his exceptional backing band.
After alternating between a few more solo numbers and all-star collaborations, everyone encored with a communal take on The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," a tune not typically associated with this time of year, but boasting a message everyone can relate to regardless of how they celebrate this season. Add it all up, and Koz once again spearheaded a tasteful trip through ghosts of Christmas past and present with loads of style, sophistication and inspiration that can only come from the most wonderful time of the year.
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