Pops delivers food for soul in tribute to Ray Charles

by Ken Keaton
Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
February 7, 2007

Fans of Maestro Bob Lappin's Palm Beach Pops orchestra filled the Kravis Center on Monday night for "The Soul of Ray: A Tribute to the Music of Ray Charles." Performances of this group are dependably satisfying, and this evening's program was a study on contrasts.

The first half was composed mainly of audience requests from the Pops' recently released pair of CDs. In the main, this half was all grace, sophistication and elegance.

The second half was another dish entirely, consisting of soul food: "A Tribute to the Music of Ray Charles." Ray Charles is one of America's greatest artists. His singing and piano artistry synthesized elements of gospel, rhythm and blues, country and western, rock 'n' roll, rockabilly... and it all comes out as soul.

You know it when you hear it, even if it resists any definition. And Ray Charles had it.

And so, one might add, does the featured soloist Dee Daniels. Daniels is a jazz singer with an astonishing range. On hearing her, this reviewer is reduced to saying "only four?" Daniels can create an amazing range of sounds, from the most gentle and sweet to elemental growls that tear at the core of being. The Earth is in her voice.

Without specifically "imitating" the style of Ray Charles, she masters his voice completely. Her phrasing is free, loose, spontaneous... yet always perfectly grounded in the rhythmic foundation. She sounds like Charles while never sounding like anything other than herself.

The selections were a treat. Daniels delivered an inspiring, gospel-tinged "America the Beautiful", and her sweet vibrato was perfect for "Hallelujah I Love Him So". The latter featured an impressive vibraphone solo by percussion principal Gary Mayone.

A tribute to Ray Charles is not complete without "Georgia on my Mind", but this was special. Daniels was amazingly free and expressive, and capped the performance with a cadenza that was elemental in its intensity. She showed her ability to build a song, not peaking too quickly, in her delivery of "A Song for You".

The concert ended with this Oakland, California native, resident of Canada for 20 years, in a delicious C&W version of "Bye, Bye Love", followed by an incongruous encore of Hoagie Carmichael's "Makin' Whoopee", which sounded like it had been written by Ray Charles. Anyone who wasn't tapping their toes, snapping their fingers or clapping for joy by the end should go for treatment for the rhythmically impaired.