ENGLEWOOD, N.J. ? At the precise midpoint of his concert at the Bergen Performing Arts Center here on Saturday night the saxophonist Dave Koz paused for an important announcement. It pertained to Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, the luxury cruise he has headlined every year for the last seven, and he framed it as an enticing question: Who wanted to win a cabin for the 2013 edition, which would tool around the Mediterranean next fall?
Marcus Yam for The New York Times
Dave Koz The saxophonist was joined by Margaret Bell, above, and the singer BeBe Winans at the Bergen Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
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Hands shot up everywhere, and Mr. Koz beamed, directing all aspirants to a giveaway contest on his Web site, Then it was on to the next order of business, as he invited his featured guest, the gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans, to the stage.
It?s always all business for Mr. Koz, just as it?s always all pleasure. Since the release of his self-titled debut album in 1990 he has become the leading light in smooth jazz, its sharpest custodian and most reliable brand. No longer does that stature belong to Kenny G, whose new release, ?Namaste? (Concord), due out on Tuesday, is a mentholated liaison with the Indian santoor player Rahul Sharma. Nor does it rest with Chris Botti, whose orchestral flirtations reflect a high-mindedness that the format can?t really sustain.
Mr. Koz is clearer and more solicitous about his transaction with an audience, which involves a lot of imploring melody and some carefully plotted crescendo. He?s a musician of unflappable rhythmic aplomb, which he happily squares against the airtight funk of his band. And he?s a frolicsome performer, given to hip swivels and bowlegged squats, along with a constant rotation of tenor, alto and soprano saxophones.
His restless effervescence might be a form of compensation, considering that the best sonic habitat for him is the recording studio. The sound he achieves on his albums, in just about any register, hits the smooth-jazz bull?s-eye with its play of tartness and susurration. When delivering a ballad, his breathiness can impart the sensation of a secret whispered close to the ear. When carving up brighter fare, he hardens his attack just slightly, without losing the feathery decay, so that each note seems to go ?puff.? There was less of that enchantment in concert, though Mr. Koz had no problem waxing sweet and gentle on ?You Make Me Smile,? one of his trademark hits. And on a drive-time staple like ?Life in the Fast Lane? he kept his output dry and crisp.
Saturday?s show was the second in Mr. Koz?s summer tour, which includes stops at wineries and pavilions and feels more like a greatest-hits revue than a referendum on his most recent album, ?Hello Tomorrow? (Concord), from 2010. The presence of Mr. Winans cemented that impression, pointing back toward a prior history of collaboration.
Mr. Winans was given leeway to push part of his own agenda: he sang ?America America,? a ragbag of patriotic clich?s from his own new album, and ?I Wanna Be the Only One,? one of his better tunes. But his raison d??tre in this show was ?The Dance,? a cover of the Garth Brooks hit. Mr. Koz introduced it as ?the title track of my most successful album,? as if reporting to a shareholder?s meeting. Which, from his vantage, might as well have been the case.
Dave Koz will be at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, N.J., on Aug. 2, countbasietheatre.org; and at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, N.Y., on Aug. 10,
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Tags: arts, BeBe, Bergen, center, Dave, music, performing, Review, Winans