Bass player Nathan East treats Hong Kong to a power-packed performance

Veteran sideman fronts a formidable band for a night of great entertainment, culminating in a funky version of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 11:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 1:03pm

Bass guitarist Nathan East, 60, has appeared in Hong Kong before as a member of Fourplay and in his touring sideman’s role with Eric Clapton’s band.

Other artists with whom he has performed in person, on record, or both over the years include Stevie Wonder, Joe Sample, Herbie Hancock and Toto, and he has been a professional bassist since his late teens, but it was only last year (2014) that he released his first album as a leader.

Not surprisingly this show, organised by Support Live Music, drew heavily on that album, which made No 1 on an assortment of jazz charts, including Billboard’s.

East was not able to field star guests Clapton, Wonder and Michael McDonald and others who contributed to that album, but nevertheless fronted a formidable band.

For many audience members this show was particularly notable for the substitution of former Fourplay member Larry Carlton for guitarist Michael Thompson, who was originally billed but unable to make the tour because of illness.

In terms of star power Carlton was the biggest name on the stage, but slipped comfortably into his old sideman’s role, and contributed some of the night’s most memorable solos.

The seven-piece line-up was unconventional in that most of the instruments were doubled. Korean guitarist Jack Lee played alongside Carlton; Norihito Sumitomo – who also played sax and the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) – played keyboards as did Kaleb James; and East’s younger brother James played five-string bass.

James East’s presence allowed Nathan East, who played a six-string bass guitar throughout, to play melodically in the instrument’s upper register much of the time, often singing in harmony or unison with the melody line.

Keeping the beat was Steve Ferrone, a former drummer with the Average White Band and an occasional rhythm section partner of East’s in various incarnations of Clapton’s band.

High points of the evening included a funky reading of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, a slow arrangement of the Blind Faith ballad Can’t Find My Way Home, and the infectiously poppy Daft Funk.

Sumitomo’s EWI performances did a fair job of emulating flute and harmonica parts from the album, but he was at his best on his real saxophone.

The omission of Easy Lover – the Phil Collins and Philip Bailey hit for which East wrote the music and which he has in the past sung in concert – was  surprising.

East emerged as a confident frontman, closing the show alone playing America the Beautiful – a slightly hammy moment lacking only a projection of the Stars and Stripes for the full patriotic effect. Otherwise he didn’t put a foot wrong.

Nathan East, Baptist University, Academic Community Hall. Reviewed: December 19