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Sweet dreams: Earl Klugh’s serene sounds enchant Folly Theater audience

Jazz guitarist Earl Klugh performed to an audience of about 700 people Friday at the Folly Theater.
Jazz guitarist Earl Klugh performed to an audience of about 700 people Friday at the Folly Theater.

The somewhat sleepy music of Earl Klugh enlivened an audience of about 700 at the Folly Theater on Friday.

The guitarist creates tasteful music that’s ideally suited for setting a sultry mood during romantic encounters. His recordings also function as effectively soothing sonic aids for unwinding at the conclusion of stressful days.

Few members of Friday’s audience canoodled or slumbered as Klugh and his three-piece band surveyed his lengthy career. His admirers found Klugh’s music dreamy rather than sleep-inducing.

Klugh has released more than two dozen solo albums, beginning with a self-titled release in 1976. He scored a minor R&B hit that year with the demure funk ballad “Living Inside Your Love.”

His gorgeous acoustic guitar tone and talent for melodic invention have been acknowledged with 13 Grammy nominations, including one for his 2013 release “HandPicked” in the category of best pop instrumental album.

Although Friday’s concert was part of the venerable Folly Jazz Series, much of Klugh’s output more closely aligns with the mellow R&B format commonly known as “quiet storm” or as his latest Grammy nomination suggests, tranquil instrumental pop.

The selection that deviated furthest from those styles on Friday, consequently, resulted in the evening’s least appealing moments. A rendition of “Bluesette” featured uncharacteristically extended improvisations. The stab at mainstream jazz caused the band to resemble four of the world’s best session musicians killing time in a leisurely jam session while they waited for a star vocalist to arrive.

The band was best when it settled into smooth grooves that allowed Klugh to showcase his distinctive playing. Like a delectable topping on vanilla ice cream, Klugh’s solos provided tasty textures over the sugary base laid down by animated keyboardist David Lee Spradley, stalwart bassist Al Turner and flashy drummer Ron Otis.

A serene interpretation of “Across the Sand” typified the approach. Klugh’s bewitching composition was enhanced by an enchanting rhythm. The abundance of beauty compensated for the dismaying lack of substance. The frothy approach of the masterful musicianship resulted in round after round of appreciative applause.

Two selections were especially deserving of the accolades. The band sat out for Klugh’s brief but transcendent solo feature. And the rousing display of funk that served as an encore proved that Klugh’s insistence on shallowness hides a deep ocean of inspiration.

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