The pop side of the Jazz Festival was evidenced in Lou Rawls's show (with Gladys Knight & The Pips) at the Opera House last Saturday. His voice was a dark and sultry croon, like Karo syrup minus the stickiness. It found uncharted terrain to explore, from a growl to a gentle loft into the stratosphere.
In his gospel-flavored pop/blues/soul show, Rawls brought us a little politics, a little heartache - and a lot of love.
The appealing thing about much of his material is the maturity of the feeling: A refreshing change from many pop lyrics, he sings of affection, respect, and a stick-through-it commitment. Best known for his ''Like a Natural Man,'' and ''Love Is a Hurtin' Thing,'' he also popped in ''Stormy Weather,'' ''Send in the Clowns,'' and some Gershwin. With two sharp back-up singers and a taut band, it was a clean and snazzy show.
If Lou Rawls was cool confidence, Gladys Knight & The Pips were a roaring ''Midnight Train to Georgia.'' Dressed in dazzling white, the three Pips struttted and whirled in loose-limbed choreography as Miss Knight blazed out a staccato string of hits and new songs including ''Neither One of Us,'' ''Friendship Train,'' and ''I Heard it Through the Grapevine.'' Responding to an audience that gave a standing ovation before the group started singing, the gospel-trained Knight wrung the songs out of her. Like Rawls, Gladys Knight & The Pips sing often of healthy and faithful relationships.
Though the elaborate band almost drowned out the vocals, and Knight seemed a little tuckered out, the power, range, and joy was undeniably there. After 31 years together, they've learned how to put on a good show.