Boz Scaggs at Blues Alley

Friday, November 21, 2008

Singers who have climbed the rock charts rarely make the transition to a jazz-tinted, vintage-pop repertoire as smoothly -- or as subtly -- as Boz Scaggs did at Blues Alley on Wednesday night. It was strictly a soft-sell performance, soulful and relaxed, free of self-consciously hip flourishes and trendy concessions.

Certainly Scaggs was equipped to do justice to "Speak Low," his recent and most rewarding collection of pop songs. The veteran R&B-bred vocalist arrived onstage with an exceptional band that featured multi-instrumentalists Paul McCandless (of Oregon fame) and Bob Sheppard, as well as keyboardist-arranger Gil Goldstein. With its unusually colorful array of woodwinds and resourceful rhythm section, the ensemble conjured moods that embraced everything from chamber jazz atmospherics and Brazilian beats to classic swing and soul grooves.

Scaggs didn't disappoint listeners who wanted to hear "Lowdown" and other favorites. Yet the arrangements were newly tailored and fit neatly alongside several songs drawn from "Speak Low," including interpretations of "I'll Remember April" and "Invitation" that quietly capitalized on the singer's jazz sensibilities and the distinctive, floating quality of his baritone. Other songs, especially "Save Your Love for Me" and "This Time the Dream's on Me" (an engaging duet with vocalist Ms. Monet), weren't much of a stretch for Scaggs, but he handled challenging harmonic schemes and some treacherously slow tempos without a hitch. His R&B guitar vocabulary also came into play now and then, to the delight of the packed house, with sliding sixths and vibrato-capped fills creating a bluesy allure.

-- Mike Joyce


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