Jazz has always been a home-grown affair, fostered from parlors and living rooms. Over at Mike and Lucy Peak’s Laguna Hills, CA home, live jazz became a popular, fundraising affair as local musicians found a place to hang, jam, and collaborate in true straight-ahead fashion.
Since 1997, various musicians have made joyous live jazz together at “Lucy’s Place,” the music room of the bassist and his wife, often for charitable organizations, including the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. On one particular December day in 2014, the ensemble’s founder Mike Peak and five other musicians — pianist Ron Kobayashi, flutist/saxophonist Ann Patterson, tenor Rickey Woodard, drummer Kendall Kay, vocalist Andrea Miller — gathered for the Orange County Chapter’s 14th annual Jazz Affair. The result in this lively, fun recording, Peak Experience Jazz - Live at Lucy's Place (Volume 1), released on JoySpring Music, June 16, 2015.
For the first-ever record of the ensemble’s live jazz, it’s quite captivating. The enthusiasm of the musicians for the material — nine jazz and pop covers, and originals done tongue-in-cheek, and differentially at the height of drama — and of the appreciative fans in the audience clearly whooping it up at all the right licks make this live album something special. The music and musicianship are top-notch, the arrangements are twisty-turny (“Cry Me A River” turns out both bluesy and spicy), and the jazz focus is given the same amount of enthusiastic response as a Justin Bieber concert.
Everybody’s heard the old standard, “Cry Me A River,” every long, drawn-out sob story milked within an inch of its life. Miller as the vocalist gives each line just the right amount of pathos, verve, and snap. She isn’t the kind of singer to wallow in the pitiful aspects, but to turn up the rebound several notches for a refreshing take. She kind of gives off a Jennifer Paige (“Crush”) vibe too, doesn’t she?
Miller’s a revelation again in a familiar John Lennon anthem, “Imagine.” She leaves out all the alienating, high-falutin’ esoteria of a New Age guru on a spiritual kick, leaving in the pure, simple, warmth of the message of love and nothing else. She rests her voice in the soft, focal spaces of chord vibrancy, amplified gently by the piano, flute, and drums. This could easily be a lead single to rival Lennon’s own original hit, for a different, matured, and world-weary generation. Kobayashi’s piano parts, especially halfway through, translate out another kind of vibrancy, perhaps a better world at a sun-lit beach where all the children from all the neighborhood families are running around together, catching butterflies in their hands.
For pure straight-ahead instrumental goodness, it’s popping straight away from the first note of the first song of Sonny Rollins, “Tenor Madness.” But in Peak Experience Jazz’s version, everyone gets to have a say in the tipsy, rollicking solos the audience never wants to end. The coolest part of Kobayashi’s role as the resident jazz pianist is his ability to slip in pop culture references at the oddest of fades (listen carefully to “CC”). Kendall Kay riffs out a poppin’ hootenanny at the end of “Tenor Madness” that never loses the audience.
Mike Peak’s own original, the honky-tonk fire of “Fancy Pants” — named after an audience regular who loves to wear colorful clothes to the concerts — sets the right bump-and-grind mood overall and gives the musicians in the ensemble plenty of play.
Peak Experience Jazz founder and co-executive producer Mike Peak is responsible for the arrangements and three of the only originals. "One of the things that sets us apart from the average jazz band of this size is that while we celebrate the tradition of straight-ahead jazz, we are not snobbish in any way about playing great songs that showcase others' genres," explained the retired construction engineer in a press release. "That's why on this recording you hear a John Lennon classic that we first performed in honor of Nelson Mandela, and 'CC,' which has references to Ramsey Lewis and the classic Motown bassist James Jamerson, who is one of my early idols. The mix of styles is infectious and we make sure the audience never knows what we're going to present.”
Co-executive producers Mike and Lucy Peak received plenty of help from co-producer Peggy Duquesnel on this record. Duquesnel, the owner of the record label, is also a veteran pianist, composer, vocalist, and arranger who’s performed many times at the couple’s home.
Live At Lucy’s Place features more than a couple of straight-ahead numbers. To the band’s credit, the album also pays loving homage to the blues, R&B, and pop, mixing and matching genres willy-nilly for an exciting, live set. The album’s a good selection up close of what guests usually get to enjoy when they visit Lucy’s Place live.
"Nothing excites us more than when the 200-300 people who regularly attend our events can't sit still and they're up dancing, clapping and singing along with the music. We're serious and uncompromising about making good music. However, we also want our music to be fun,” Mike Peak continued. “The other thing we're thrilled about is the fact that we appeal to jazz, R&B and pop fans of all ages — because all of us love music from different generations. I created the band to give musicians a chance to express themselves and to touch people's hearts and lives.”