If the chairs in Helzberg Hall could recline, Kenny G’s appearance Friday might have been the perfect concert experience. Although they had to sit upright, the members of the audience of almost 1,600 were treated to a deeply relaxing and entirely entertaining show by the pop instrumentalist.
The Kansas City Symphony and a four-piece band provided Kenny G with exquisite support.
Kenny G’s dramatic entrance demonstrated that he hasn’t sold more than 75 million albums simply through the power of his seductive music. A master showman, he began playing his signature soprano saxophone in the choral loft.
Before he reached the stage, he interacted with surprised fans, demonstrated his audience-pleasing circular breathing technique and horsed around with Aram Demirjian, the debonair conductor of the Symphony’s Pops Series concerts.
Born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick in 1956, Kenny G is reputedly the best-selling instrumentalist of all time. The quick wit and accommodating persona he displayed Friday undoubtedly played key roles in his success.
Every time the concert threatened to become oppressively pleasant, he offered a twist. He recalled being bullied in high school and accepting an invitation from President Bill Clinton to spend a night in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom. He held a drawing for a Kenny G-brand saxophone and serenaded the winner.
Although he suggested that “we’re going to turn (Helzberg Hall) into a jazz club right now” in his introduction to “Desafinado,” his interpretation of the standard resembled the same sort of cosmopolitan pop that characterizes his hits, including “Silhouette” and “Songbird.”
Tranquil renditions of “Sabor a Mi” and “My Heart Will Go On” also served as aural sedatives. Only the heroic flourishes of a song he wrote for the 2008 Summer Olympics differed appreciably from his successful formula.
Much of the production of his hit records from the 1980s and 1990s sounds dated. Friday’s orchestral accompaniment represented an enormous upgrade over the original arrangements. The impeccable sound field prevented Kenny G’s processed saxophone work from becoming overbearing. The sole sonic flaw occurred when a keyboard occasionally played by Robert Damper needlessly duplicated the orchestra’s efforts.
The medley of Christmas songs that opened the second set initially seemed out of place. The audience didn’t mind. Kenny G’s winning appearance made it abundantly clear that in his world, every day is a holiday.