In his debut at the Dakota Jazz Club Tuesday, 1980s R&B star Jeffrey Osborne seemed preoccupied with the fact that the venue was billed as a jazz club. He kept talking about his jazz show vs. his R&B show with a bigger band including female backup singers.
So his freewheeling, fun and often musically rewarding set featured some funk teases (mostly from his days with the 1970s band LTD) and some satisfying jazz ballads (mostly from his 2013 George Duke-produced album “A Time for Love”).
With phrasing and a timbre that recalled Lou Rawls,’ Osborne, 67, impressed singing standards and pop classics such as a breezy “Close to You” and an inviting “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.”
While Osborne’s warm baritone, strong sense of dynamics and palpable emotionalism connected with the appreciative, capacity crowd, it was trumpeter Patches Stewart who elevated the songs with just the perfect, understated, often muted touches at the right time.
The five-man band was apparently Osborne’s regular players but they all had sheet music in front of them. The chatty and engaging singer seemed to ignore the set list, alternating a standard like “My One and Only Love” (which was dedicated to Osborne’s inspiration, baritone Johnny Hartman) with an abbreviated selection from his R&B career. Even “On the Wings of Love,” one of Osborne’s biggest solo hits, inexplicably received a truncated treatment.
On the other hand, his classic “You Should Be Mine (the Woo Woo Song)” was given an extended reading, with Osborne calling on various individual fans to sing the chorus into his microphone as he weaved through the crowd. He had no idea what he was in for. After local vocal luminary Jamecia Bennett brought down the house, Osborne declared: “I wouldn’t want to follow that. I think we need a white person to follow that. Where are my white folks at?”
Osborne will return Wednesday to the Dakota for performances at 7 and 9 p.m. But don’t necessarily count on those sets lasting as long as Tuesday’s 105-minute treat. And maybe by then, Osborne, who boasted about receiving six NBA championship rings for singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at L.A. Lakers games, will learn that the Lakers got their start in Minneapolis, where there are many lakes but no Timberwolves championship banners.