A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a perfect summer event. Every summer there is a Smooth Cruise, which features various smooth jazz musicians who perform on the famous Hornblower Infinity. As luck would have it, one of my favorite jazz musicians, Gerald Albright, was performing with Mindi Abair for an evening of cool sailing. I hopped on the cruise ship and had a relaxing summer adventure.
It was one of those hot as hell days where everyone was sweating. Even the coolest of the cool were glistening. After suffering the trek across town to Pier 40, I was already a human waterfall. Keeping my composure, I went over to the guest list table and snagged my ticket for the event. Already, the line to board the Hornblower was large. People crowded over the dock, many frustrated and confused with the ticketing procedure. Something I always forget is that at these smooth jazz sessions, the age group consists of a majority of older people. I was obviously the youngest person there.
It was a perfect sunshiny evening and the Hudson River was beautiful with its water lapping at the side of the ships. I loved the ocean breeze and scent. The last time I was on the Hornblower was in July for the Village Voice’s 4Knots Music Festival. Luckily, this evening was sure to bring about a different vibe than 4Knots. I waited in line for a while sweating profusely. Finally, the line began to move and out in the distance I could see people boarding the Hornblower. Security guards gave out free water as the crowd boarded. That helped cool everyone down. The staff of the Hornblower directed the crowd to either the first or second level. I was sent to the first level, where the concert stage was and took a table in the back in anticipation that many people would push forward for better seats. It became super crowded at this point. As the line for the buffet kept growing with people lingering towards the back, I became even hungrier. Once it all died down a bit I wandered over and grabbed some chicken, salmon and veggies. I was very satisfied.
My seat was right by the window and it was great watching New Yorkers frolic in the sun. Eventually the announcements came for Mindi Abair, who was going to start us all off. I did not understand or hear anything the announcers were saying. Mindi came on stage with a full rock band intro. Her music was perfect for drifting off into a suave rock dreamland on the water. There was something surreal watching the NYC skyline and horizon float while Mindi’s music was playing. She provided tons of great sax. Mindi’s band was amazingly talented with a strong focus on the keyboardist who graced us all with impressive solos. This first cruising around Battery Park and up the East River was funk-rock all the way. As we meandered at a slug pace on the water, Mindi’s music blended beautifully with the orange glow of the sunset on the buildings. It was a feeling that everything will be ok.
All along the shore there were many kayakers and boats out enjoying these dog days of summer. In the middle of Mindi’s set I became distracted by these strange old ladies fighting over their iPhone pictures and arguing with each other across from me. One of the ladies was trying to sing along and was way off on her lip-syncing. Even her clapping was terrible as she was completely offbeat. When Mindi and her band were not singing, this lady was belching out lyrics that did not match Mindi’s soulful sublime voice. I kept chuckling to myself. Mindi finished her set just as we were going under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Next, Mindi introduced the man with the sax with thunderous applause. The big fella wandered into the space in his green velvet shirt waving to the crowd. Even though many people had left to see the outside decks in the cool evening, that did not stop Gerald from bring on the tunes. He started with a soft groove with a huge lick of funk within. He was bouncing all the way with his saxophone. Gerald’s sax was low and could peak with a high sound. He could linger on for several beats and he urged on the funk for all the listeners who were enjoying every moment. His bassist unleashed awesome bass solos. What fascinates me about Gerald’s playing that he closes his eyes all the time. He keeps feeling the groove. The music was more funk compared to Mindi’s rock and roll – rhythm and blues fusion. Gerald also kept a big grin on his face while he performed. His saxophone playing definitely had more power. His sense of tone control was great. Man, he could breathe energy into his sax as people slowly turned their heads back to the stage in wonder.
We returned to the Hudson right as Gerald’s set was illuminating the final hour of the sun for the night. The sun reflected off all the buildings, which then reflected off of the water to a pink-orange glow. As my eyes surveyed this gorgeous sight, Mr. Albright began to play his rendition of James Brown’s It’s a Man Man Man’s World. After that sudden excitement supported by loud cheers, the song faded into to the colors of the water. Again, the shift came once more with a rendition of a cool Georgia On My Mind. Almost a full moon peeked out at this point that had everyone standing up and snapping pictures. Gerald’s final song had everyone dancing and singing along. People were clapping madly with hollers to follow. There was even some catcalling from the ladies! This was Gerald’s hip-hop funk. There were so many old people dancing and some were really into it, maybe a little too much. I was surprised the boat was not rocking.
As the song reached its crescendo the audience applauded raucously. Gerald bowed and thanked them for a great evening. The Hornblower pulled into the docks and people all crowded near the exits to leave. However, many went to the back of the boat to grab some short moments with Gerald who offered some autographs and photos. I walked right past him at the end and was very happy with how the night progressed. If you have a chance, go see Gerald live throughout the country, better yet, see his contemporaries on the Smooth Cruise for more enjoyment this summer. Mr. Albright is a staple in the smooth jazz genre and has risen to heights that are only offered for masters of the craft. I enjoyed hearing his magic in person and hope others can share its glory. Until then, take a listen to his work and Mindi’s for a full grasp of it all!