From the opener "All I Need Is You" to the soul-stirring "Amazing Grace" encore, listening to Kirk Whalum was an encounter with one of the best saxophonists on the scene today. For almost two hours, Kirk "Have Saxophone Will Travel" Whalum fellowshipped with an almost sellout crowd at the Carolina Theatre, turning the performance hall into his own family music room, with a thousand of his closest friends.
This was truly a family show, with performances by brother Kevin Whalum (oh what a voice!), opening act Corey Parker (yes, Maceo's boy) and Parker's brother, Damien, joining Whalum on drums. And Whalum not only featured his band members prominently during the solo sets of his songs, he also allowed bubbly bassist Mike Manson to perform Outer Drive from Manson's soon-to-be-released CD The Bottom Line--I'm saving my little pennies now for that one--and that's not all, y'all.
While his live version of the title track off the Unconditional CD had folks happily bouncing in their chairs, his smooth jazz version of Maxwell's R&B hit Ascension had them quickly rising out of their seats. And just when folks thought (and I overheard this) "it doesn't get much better than this," Kirk proved them wrong by introducing his younger brother, Kevin. Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Will Downing ... Kevin Whalum. That's the comparison and I'll stick by it. He's that good! The junior Whalum hit us with his flexibility, range, and just downright great singing in the song "TaTa Jesus (Thank you Jesus)," a song that was inspired by his child's mispronunciation of the words "thank you" (which explained Whalum's cute child-like mannerisms as he sang). Kevin's rendition of Bill Withers' "Use Me" also allowed him to show off his storytelling and singing skills. Tired yet? There's more.
Of course Kirk had to play Stevie's (the wonder) "All I Do," which called for a real female vocalist. Enter, North Carolina's own Barbara Weathers (formerly of Atlantic Starr, and Corvacus). This lady can SANG y'all (and she's fine too)! Whalum and Weathers followed with duets of some of her biggest hits, "If Your Heart isn't in It" and "Always," while audience members sang along. It was down right therapeutic. In "Venus," Whalum interplayed with the guitarist and Kirk--The Energizer Bunny--Whalum ended up in the audience standing on a seat (what a showman!).
For the encore performance, Whalum brought Weathers and Kevin back on stage to sing the moving "Thy Kingdom Come," using the audience as his chorus. During a rendition of "Amazing Grace," the audience swayed and hugged, their souls clearly touched. That's the kind of musical we had in Kirk's family music room: Soulful Grace.
The Gospel According to Jazz Part II is in stores now and Whalum's tour has also begun with BWB (Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun). Visit www.kirkwhalum.com.
--Brett E. Chambers