Say what you will about Kenny G, he certainly knows how to keep the folks in the cheap seats happy.
Looking and sounding for all the world like the Pied Piper of smooth jazz at Nissan Pavilion on Sunday night, the saxophonist opened his show and prefaced the inevitable encore by casually walking around the venue with one crowd-pleasing sax flourish after another. He capped his initial stroll with a now-familiar bit of saxophonic trickery, using a circular breathing technique to sustain a single note for what seems like an eternity until he finally gets back to the stage and resolves the melody amid thunderous applause. The audience found a lot more to cheer about, too, as the reedman reprised several of the innocuous ballads that have made him extremely popular in some quarters and an easy target for criticism in others. Yet there was no mistaking his savvy as a showman on the soprano, alto and tenor saxes, accompanied by percussionist Ron Powell and bassist Vail Johnson, or in duets with opening act George Benson. As for the sax man's latest single, in which he plays along with Louis Armstrong's recording of "What a Wonderful World," the less said, the better.
Benson's opening set was another smartly paced performance designed to appeal to smooth-jazz fans. Punctuated by occasional bursts of skill that showed Wes Montgomery's influence, the performance was devoted in large part to the hit songs Benson has crooned over the years, including "On Broadway" and "The Greatest Love of All."