There’s just an “invisible fence” separating the worlds of jazz and soul, said Christian McBride at the start of Thursday night’s “Jazz and Soul” concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. And certainly the show, one of the main concerts in the third annual TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival, made that point clear.
McBride’s own jazz big band — who were onstage the whole evening, performing on their own and backing vocalists Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind and Fire), Fantasia and José James — played, among their handful of songs, McBride’s James Brown-inspired “Gettin’ to It,” as well as his “Used ’ta Could,” which had a loose, bluesy feel and was propelled, largely, by handclaps.
Fantasia, the soul and R&B singer who reinvented herself as a jazz diva in the recent Broadway musical “After Midnight,” impressed with deeply emotional versions of the jazz standards “Stormy Weather” and “Summertime,” as well as a stripped-down version of her latest single, “Side Effects of You.”
Bailey added percussion to the big band’s funky version of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Africano/Power” before crooning the jazz standards “Here’s to Life” and “Caravan,” and then closing the show with the celebratory “Sun Goddess” (a EWF/Ramsey Lewis collaboration, some 40 years ago).
It was a bit of an anticlimactic ending, since Fantasia, James and Jazzmeia Horn (a young singer who had performed briefly, early in the evening) joined Bailey onstage, but seemed unsure of what to do. On the other hand, the show didn’t really seem intended to build to some great moment. The performers simply took the stage, one after another, and dazzled, and then made way for each other.
The biggest show-stopper, actually, came early on, when Horn sang “Billie’s Bounce” as a duet with bassist McBride. The two engaged in a kind of musical dual, with Horn singing complex lines and McBride echoing them with his bass riffs.
Horn — who is still in her early 20s, and won last year’s edition of the festival’s Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition — not only held her own with one of the jazz world’s leading instrumentalists, but seemed utterly relaxed and poised as she did so. In introducing her, McBride said he believes she could soon be a star in the jazz world; she probably convinced just about everyone else in the theater, too, with just that one song.
The following are the remaining events in the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival:
Nov. 14, 7 p.m.: All-State Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Choir at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater.
Nov. 14 ,8 p.m.: Chris Botti at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall.
Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.: NJPAC Day of Swing at NJPAC Center for Arts Education. Jazz exploration and learning for children and families. Free.
Nov. 15, 2 p.m.: “Jazz City: Newark’s Jazz Legacy” panel discussion, at Rutgers-Newark’s Dana Library, 185 University Ave. Free.
Nov. 15: 5 and 8 p.m.: Michael Franks with Raul Midón, at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater.
Nov. 16, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Vanessa Rubin Trio at Dorthaan’s Place buffet brunch at NJPAC’s NICO Kitchen + Bar.
Nov. 16, 3 p.m.: Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater.
Nov. 22, 8 p.m.: All Strings Attached: Béla Fleck, Christian McBride and the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater.
Nov. 30, 8 p.m.: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall.