Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

Detroit Jazz Festival 2013
By Published: | 10,675 views
2013 Detroit Jazz Festival
Detroit, Michigan
August 30-September 2, 2013
Summing up the modus operandi that seemed to characterize so much of the performances at this year's Detroit Jazz Festival, one might sagaciously go with the phrase 'wild abandon.' Now in its 34th year of existence, the festival still boasts the title of "largest free jazz festival in North America." Musician Chris Collins in his sophomore effort as artistic director continues to hone his skills in putting together this cumbersome smorgasbord of delights. As such, things continue to evolve and change, some for the better and some for the worse. The theme-based or tribute performances are often a mixed bag and the scheduling of sets in similar genres at the same time continues to frustrate those wishing to see more than a tune or two before whisking off to another venue. Still, what makes this festival work are the varied opportunities to hear working bands stocked with New York's finest.

From the get-go, Friday night's opening performances were all about a loose sense of collective exploration. Up first was this year's artist-in-residence, Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
b.1966
piano
, leading an ensemble he calls Panama 500. Joining the pianist were Alex Hargreaves on violin, bassist John Patitucci
John Patitucci
John Patitucci
b.1959
bass
, drummer Adam Cruz
Adam Cruz
Adam Cruz
b.1970
drums
, and two percussionists. The music was long on musical probing and short on cohesion. Often when the ensemble seemed to hit its stride, Perez would follow up with a new tangent, taking things in yet another direction. The most remarkable moments came when the groove had time to establish itself, buoyed by conguero Roman Diaz, whose vocal chants provided the ultimate stamp of authenticity.



Leading his big band composed of ten horns and a four-piece rhythm section, saxophonist David Murray
David Murray
David Murray
b.1955
sax, tenor
's truncated set began with the communal roar of "Stressology." Wildly loose and somewhat sloppily performed, the overall effort benefited from the solid bass foundation provided by Jaribu Shahid... and the kinetic energy of drummer Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
b.1971
drums
. Vocalist Macy Gray's histrionics are somewhat of an acquired taste and her animated delivery marked the three numbers she performed with the band. Then, in the midst of "Talk About Jesus," the skies opened and a flash of torrential rains brought a quick end to the evening's performances, sending droves of listeners scrambling for cover.

Saturday's schedule included a rarity for this festival, a chunk of time spent at one venue, in this case the Carhartt Amphitheater, with limited stage hopping involved. Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
b.1962
piano
and Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
b.1966
piano
brought their musically satisfying duo to the stage replete with two concert grand pianos. Everything about the presentation was classy, as was an inspired take on Monk's "Off Minor." Up next, the Mack Avenue Superband lived up to its moniker, highlighting the compositional talents of its members. Sean Jones
Sean Jones
Sean Jones
b.1978
trumpet
provided the lovely waltz "Mars and Venus" and newcomer Aaron Diehl
Aaron Diehl
Aaron Diehl

piano
's "Blue Nude" was a fabulous showcase for this immensely talented pianist.

One of the highlights of the festival, the Mack Avenue showcase featured the legendary Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
in duet with young phenom Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
b.1979
vibraphone
. The pair, on vibes and marimba, coalesced on Wolf's fine arrangement of the iconic "Senor Mouse." Another memorable moment from this set would be Kirk Whalum
Kirk Whalum
Kirk Whalum
b.1958
saxophone
's 5/4 groove on the spiritual "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me."

Elsewhere that afternoon, Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
and friends, including Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland
Eric Harland
Eric Harland
b.1976
drums
, played a transcendent set over at the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Earlier in the day, pianist Michael Weiss
Michael Weiss
Michael Weiss
b.1958
piano
brought his band of New York cats to the Absopure Pyramid Stage where he played his original compositions with the valuable assistance of saxophonist Wayne Escoffery
Wayne Escoffery
Wayne Escoffery
b.1975
sax, tenor
, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, drummer George Fludas
George Fludas
George Fludas
b.1966
drums
, and percussionist Daniel Sadownick
Daniel Sadownick
Daniel Sadownick

percussion
. Escoffrey voiced the robust tenor melody for the loping "Power Station," while Sadownick and Fludas locked in tight for the fast clip of "Orient Express," a tune somewhat akin to Coltrane's "Giant Steps."

As the evening started to wind down, it was time to face the fact that in choosing to see B3 firebrand Tony Monaco
Tony Monaco
Tony Monaco
b.1959
organ, Hammond B3
wrap things up at the Pyramid also meant that there would only be time to hear a few tunes by McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
back at the Amphitheater. Even at the age of 74, Tyner still plays with a molten fire that, in this case, was aided and abetted by bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Francisco Mela. By the time special guest Savion Glover made it to the stage, Monaco had already started to heat things up next door.

Although his choice to make Columbus, Ohio home base makes Monaco a talent just under the radar for many, make no mistake in putting his name on the list of modern day organ masters. In a trio with guitarist Fareed Haque
Fareed Haque
Fareed Haque
b.1963
guitar
and drummer Makaya McCraven
Makaya McCraven
Makaya McCraven
b.1983
drums
, Monaco purveyed the history of the instrument from downhome blues to gospel strains straight from the pulpit. Not afraid to literally pull out all the stops, the organist picked the best combination of tonal colors to suit each piece. Of the many highlights, a run through Jimmy Smith's "Root Down" was particularly choice, including a Haque solo that bordered on the microtonal at times.

All bets were off on Sunday when I came to running a game plan that would avoid the pitfalls of missing one or more favorites. One couldn't miss though in starting off the day with a tribute to Detroit's own Pepper Adams. With a front line of three baritone saxophones including Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
b.1956
sax, baritone
, Howard Johnson, and Frank Basile
Frank Basile
Frank Basile
b.1978
sax, baritone
, the ante was upped even further by utilizing a rhythm section consisting of Michael Weiss, Ray Drummond
Ray Drummond
Ray Drummond
b.1946
bass
, and Joe Farnsworth
Joe Farnsworth
Joe Farnsworth
b.1968
drums
. Tunes such as "Binary," "Chant," and "Witches Pit" served as great vehicles for the horns. Plus, a lovely ballad medley included the Ellington numbers "Lotus Blossom," Chelsea Bridge," and "Sophisticated Lady."



Although the critical accolades have been plentiful, Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
's exploration of the music of John Lennon in Detroit was only a modest success. The mood was too psychedelic and generally slow-paced for anything much to catch with listeners. The twang of violin and pedal steel guitar seemed also somewhat of a rare delicacy, heard best in smaller doses. The jury also seemed to be out on Gregory Porter
Gregory Porter
Gregory Porter
b.1971
vocalist
the much lauded new vocalist who could be found along with his band at the Main Stage. While Porter has great chops and wonderful stage presence, his original material is somewhat uneven save for the catchy "1960 What?" which recalls Gil-Scott Heron in his heydays. Arguably, it can be suggested that while Porter surrounds himself with a talented cast of musicians, their contributions were solely workmen-like in character.

Formed back in 1977, the band Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets

band/orchestra
has consistently straddled the lines between pop fusion and more jazz-based sensibilities. With the recent departure of Jimmy Haslip, the only original member to remain is keyboard man Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
b.1952
keyboard
. The band was in fine form at the Main Stage Sunday evening with all eyes on Felix Pastorius who has filled the chair vacated by Haslip. The son of Jaco Pastorius, this newest member of the ensemble refreshingly has developed his own bass voice apart from his father. Favorites of the set included "Claire's Song" and the traditional swing of "Song for Elvin."

Back at the Amphitheater, the crowd was anxious for the homecoming of Detroit's own Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan
b.1928
vocalist
. The 84-year-old singer was to be matched with a string section and the piano trio of Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
b.1947
piano
. As she made her way to the microphone, Jordan spoke with an ageless sense of enthusiasm and her vocals remained ever poignant. Opening with "Haunted Heart," Jordan took the audience through a set replete with nostalgia and genuine magic. By contrast, the night was finishing up over at Campus Martius with the loop-based grooves of John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
and his Uberjam band featuring Andy Hess, Avi Bortnick, and Tony Mason. While the emphasis was on samples and beats of the funk variety, Scofield dipped into his bag of blues and other tricks as he ripped off one hot solo after another.



By Monday, a sense of overstimulation seemed to be settling in, but this was quickly dispelled as pianist Aaron Diehl
Aaron Diehl
Aaron Diehl

piano
took the stage at the Pyramid with his group featuring Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
b.1979
vibraphone
on vibes and Rodney Green
Rodney Green
Rodney Green

drums
on drums. Performing much of the material from his debut release, The Bespoke Man's Narrative, Diehl locked in with his section mates for a riveting recital that was one of the best the festival had to offer. Especially fine was the pianist's clever arrangement of "Moonlight in Vermont," with Wolf unleashing a masterful solo filled with daring runs, quarter note triplets, and high wire risks that paid off with big dividends.

Equally enthralling was the next set by trumpeter Terell Stafford
Terell Stafford
Terell Stafford
b.1966
trumpet
in a quintet with saxophonist Tim Warfield
Tim Warfield
Tim Warfield

sax, tenor
, bassist Rodney Whitaker
Rodney Whitaker
Rodney Whitaker
b.1968
bass, acoustic
, pianist Bruce Barth
Bruce Barth
Bruce Barth
b.1958
piano
, and drummer Dana Hall
Dana Hall
Dana Hall

drums
. Paying homage to Billy Strayhorn, the ensemble's musical concoction was equal parts exploration and burning abandon. Look, these guys are the best in the business and whether it was Stafford blowing a pretty ballad on "Daydream," Warfield unleashing his own sheets of sound, or Barth rollicking along barrelhouse style, the end results were priceless.

Proving to be a hard act to follow, a less incendiary approach would be in the offing as 85-year-old legend Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
was next in line on the Pyramid schedule. No less engaging though, Konitz brought his cool voice to such standards as "Solar" and "I Can't Get Started." Right in step with their leader, the backing trio would include pianist Dan Tepfer
Dan Tepfer
Dan Tepfer
b.1982
piano
, Ray Drummond, and the always stimulating Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
. A few more trinkets lay in store for those holding out until the end of the evening, but with a full plate, this reviewer retreated to home turf in order to prepare for a Tuesday start to the work week.

View more photos from the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival.

Photo Credit

C. Andrew Hovan

comments powered by Disqus
Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW

Enter it twice.
To the weekly jazz events calendar

Enter the numbers in the graphic
Enter the code in this picture

Log in

One moment, you will be redirected shortly.

or search site with Google