By Timothy Cox
Special to AFRO

To listen to the sound of Kirk Whalum’s saxophone let’s you know that the man has a blessed tone. 

In fact, upon meeting the seasoned musician during his recent four-day stint at Washington D.C.’s historic Blues Alley jazz club – he consistently uses the word “blessed” or “bless you,” during significant parts of his conversation.

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum (Courtesy of Facebook)

Meanwhile, the Memphis son of a preacher-man, brought down the proverbial house by playing a blend of his compositions, in addition to funky cover songs that were palatable to the largely old-school jazz and soul-music generationals in the house. Remember, Kirk has played sideman to Whitney Houston, George Duke and Luther Vandross, to name a few.

He then changed the groove to swing-bebop, mainly to showcase his and his band’s dexterity and flexibilities performing straight-ahead jazz in this traditional-jazz venue. Miles Davis’ “Straight No Chaser” and John Coltraine’s “Giant Steps” were smokin’ hot covers on a cold January night.

They played up-tempos, and challenged Memphis drummer Marcus Finnie’s bebop drumming techniques, but the young stickman laid down the slick-quick patterns required of the genre. Art “Buhainas” Blakey and Kenny “Klook” Clark would have been proud.

As a native Memphian, with long residential stops in Houston and Dallas, Whalum is a supreme soul brother, with Texas-flavored roots that connects his family gospels with Dallas mega minister, T.D. Jakes.

Kirk Whalum’s band played a fine set at Blues Alley. They feature John Stoddart, Andrea Lisa, Kirk Whalum, Braylon Lacy and Marcus Finnie. (Photo by Timothy Cox)

 What sounds like an anointed tenor saxophone, soprano sax and flute – is what it is – a mellow tone, unlike no others. Afterall, he has played sideman to the likes of George Duke, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross.

During the final show of a four-night, eight-show bill, Mr. Whalum and his band were fresh and funky during their final Sunday night show. Lady guitarist Andrea Lisa was a surprising special treat. Though she noted that her background comes from listening to hornmen, like her boss, it was easy to realize that the South African native is also influenced by her countryman – Jonathan Butler. She also mentioned George Benson as an influence. Bassist Braylon Lacy was masterful during swing sessions and with the funk. At one point during a solo, he mimicked a patented lick from the Willie Weeks’ bass solo from the Donny Hathaway Live album from 1972.

Lacy, a Dallas native is also a mainstay with his home-girl, Eryka Badu. Philly born pianist John Stoddart rounded out the quartet with chord progressions that laid fat groundwork for Whalum’s and Lisa’s melodic improvisational twists and turns.

The 12-time Grammy Award nominee played a few cuts from his latest CD, “Humanite’” and offered Ms. Lisa a chance to spotlight her composition on his current release, “Get Your Wings Up.”

Overall, it was a scintillating night of good jazz, sweet soul, poppin’ funk and wholesome gospel chops. Thanks Mr. Whalum.