Photos by Sue Pfannmuller/Special to The Star
Kevin Mahogany apologized near the conclusion of his concert Saturday at the Folly Theater. "I don't think I've been doing my best this evening," he confessed.
Before establishing himself internationally, Mahogany performed soul and jazz in Kansas City-area venues in the '70s and '80s. That background, combined with a formal music education, has molded the 50-year-old into a unique talent.
Yet Mahogany's versatility was challenged during Saturday's tribute to Kansas City's Big Joe Turner. The influence of Turner, the blues-shouting bartender and rock and roll pioneer, is still apparent in the popular music of today. The bravado of Jay-Z, for instance, echoes Turner's ribald legacy.
For the most part, however, Saturday's presentation was an exercise in elegance. Accordingly, Mahogany shone brightest on the night's slowest material. Highlights included a sensual interpretation of "I Want a Little Girl" and a stunning scat sequence on "In the Evening."
Mahogany is a big man with a voice to match, but he rarely emulated Turner's shouting. Turner sang with a lewd leer; Mahogany sings with a gracious smile.
A rendition of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was indicative of the wide disparity between Turner's manic style and the Mahogany's sensitive approach. Nary a trace of the wild-eyed suggestiveness of Turner's hit was evoked. It was as if the "one-eyed cat" of the lyric had been neutered.
The evening's subdued tone may have been attributable to the night's unfortunate circumstances. Legendary drummer Bernard Purdie didn't make the gig. His replacement, Buddy Williams, was an excellent fill-in, but Purdie's absence was disappointing nonetheless. Secondly, guitarist Grant Green Jr., injured himself before the show. He sported a bandaged right hand and visibly struggled until finally excusing himself during the second set.
"Now that the Novocaine's worn off, it's not as fun as he thought it would be," Mahogany kidded.
Thank goodness for Red Holloway. Much of the night's grit and fire came the oldest member of the band. In keeping with Turner's raucous attack, the 81-year-old saxophonist delivered a string of exceptionally energetic and soulful solos.
Holloway redeemed an otherwise bland reading of "Route 66" with a smart, rock-based contribution. And his impassioned work on "Please Send Me Someone to Love" seemingly inspired Mahogany to offer his most forceful vocal of the night. In fact, some of the night's finest moments occurred when Mahogany and vocalist Kathy Kosins weren't on stage.
"This is a real greasy song," Holloway said as he opened the second set with a raucous blues number . "When you hear it you'll need to get your oil changed."
Holloway's vigorous tribute to the late saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford was also memorable. These selections allowed the otherwise underused organist Reuben Wilson opportunities to display his formidable talent.
Had he not been distracted by his concern for Green, Mahogany might have been more energized by his excellent band. The subsequent lack of urgency resulted in a night of low-key, relaxed charm.
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star