Hardly any jazz was played at the Kool Jazz Festival last night at the Capital Centre. The festival would have been better billed as a tribute to Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, two of the most exciting innovators in American dance music today.
Edwards and Rodgers are the composers and producers for Chic and Sister Sledge, and festival's headliners. Basist Edwards and guitarist Rodgers also performed with Chic. The concert's two opening acts, Kleer and Skyy, may have had no official connection to the songwriting duo, but the two groups blatently imitated the unmistakable Edwards-Rodgers sound. That sound -- with its herky-jerky rhythm and anthem-like chants -- dominated the whold show.
Kleer and Skyy began the show with likable but clearly derivative music. Debbie, Kim, Joani and Kathie Sledge -- they're really sisters -- gave the evening a lift. Their overlapping vocal ranges gave the Edwards-Rodgers songs the rousing harmonies of a church choir and the zealous competition of four sisters talking to the same boy. Their voices erupted in four different directions between the choruses of their biggest hit, but all fell into place on Edwards and Rodgers' hypnotic chant: "We are family!"
The show came to a climax as Edwards and Rodgers appeared with Chic before a silver-and-white art deco set. Playing with four singers, three violinists, two keyboardists and a drummer, they were able to recreate the symphonic wall of sound of their records. The simple but unforgettable melodies were carried by the singers and subverted by everyone else. The violinists played quirky, jagged charts; Edwards and Rodgers churned up disturbed rhythms under the graceful vocals. Any idea that Chic played automated disco music was destroyed in the resulting, electrifying tension.