The last time Roy Ayers was in town, he stood on a smallish stage alongside his band of brothers in musical arms, filling the room with the energy and sound of double the troops that were camped out underneath the lights. At Central Park SummerStage, these imaginary figures were realized as actual people, about 30 or so comprising San Francisco’s Jazz Mafia Symphony, which had been commissioned to augment Ayers’ classics in celebration of his 70th birthday last year. From the position at back left on the ground’s green astro turf, the Brooklyn native was a tiny blip amongst the mass of people—full percussion, brass, string and vocal sections—but as always, he raged away, this time with a pair of red-headed vibraphone mallets.
Since Ayers can create such a full sound with the help of only a handful, his works swelled at the hands of so many. “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” was an exultation of arms and trombones waving about; “Searchin'” was all about complete (the only thing that would have made that moment better than it was, was Badu circa Live 1997). The Jazz Mafia’s vocal section had little to do, as hearing the signature voice of so many summertime salutes, during summer in New York’s signature park, was one of the concert’s most appealing elements. The family of kids from Harlem School Of The Arts however were mainly waiting for their collective sunshine’s brightest moments, and when some of the students got their time to showcase their talent, the bleachers at the back became a bursting flurry of familial pride.
Earlier in the evening Jazz Mafia played some medleys it had prepared earlier (the standout one being Stevie) and called upon Zion I and the Grouch to infuse the show with a hip-hop crossover. “Where are all the jazz heads?” the sportcoat-wearing lead trombonist asked. “Where are all the hip-hop heads?” Hands raised for both.