A Smooth-jazz Standard-bearer Offers Soft Exclamations

Dave Koz
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?

Hands shot up everywhere, and Mr. Koz beamed, directing all aspirants to a giveaway contest on his Web site, davekoz.com. 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.

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