2002 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival
Cutting out a few numbers before the conclusion of Gates’ set, it was a quick jog over to the newly-revamped Waterfront Stage for an incendiary performance from trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her quartet, featuring tenor phenom Seamus Blake. With Gary Versace at the organ, an affinity with the Larry Young classic Unity was strongly evident, Jensen already a heady melodic whiz in the tradition of Woody Shaw. Blake tightly closed his eyes and ripped through each solo with laser precision, creating lines with great cohesion and powerful story-telling appeal. Even with the fairly large crowd on hand, it was a shame that a very busy afternoon made it difficult for even more folks to catch a sound from what had to be among the strongest performances of the entire fest.
With just about an hour to catch some libations, if was right back over to the Amphitheatre Stage for the rest of Saturday evening. First up, drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts brought in his new ensemble fresh off the release of his latest release, Bar Talk. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist David Budway, bassist John Benitez and guitarist David Gilmore (a last minute replacement for the slated Paul Bollenback) helped Watts create the kind of ‘burn out’ grooves that have been part and parcel of the drummer’s approach since his earliest experiences with Wynton and Branford Marsalis.
A bit of a minor irritation, after Watts and crew presented their first three numbers, they left the stage and all weathered the healthy pause before things were in place for televising the rest of the set (fortunately, the emcee didn’t mispronounce Jeff’s name on the air as she had earlier in the evening). Aside from such distinctive originals as “The Impaler,” “Vodville,” and “Stevie in Rio,” Watts paid homage to the late Kenny Kirkland with a melancholy performance of “The Tonality of Atonement.” The closing “Like a Rose” proved to be a virtual tour-de-force for all hands on deck. Watts set off with an atypical vocal over a slow ballad tempo before the Fender Rhodes kicked in a funk groove that alternated nicely with some fiery swing passages. Gilmore’s rock-inflected guitar turned up the heat even more, although it would be Watts’ pyrotechnics that brought the crowd to their feet. You just have to see the guy in action to fully appreciate his contributions to modern drumming!
It was in a brief few minutes after the end of Watts’ set that I swung over to the Pyramid Stage to catch one or two numbers by Sonny Fortune and his quartet including pianist George Cables, bassist Charles Fambrough, and drummer Steve Johns. The sparks were flying on a tribute number to John Coltrane where Fortune created periods of great tension through the masterful use of circular breathing techniques. Unfortunately, my stay with Fortune was brief as it was back to the main stage for a second dose of Watts, this time as part of Branford Marsalis’ Quartet.
Sticking closely to a set that almost mirrored the tune selection from his newly released Footsteps of Our Fathers, Marsalis and his group (featuring Watts, pianist Joey Calderazzo, and bassist Eric Revis) had to also suffer an interruption in order to prepare for the synchronization of a televised segment of their set. The first two parts of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” brought forth a cathartic recital that found Watts creating the required energy. It was all technically dazzling, yet one had to wonder if there was just a bit of sacrilege in recreating an iconic piece of work so wholly identified with another artist.
Ornette Coleman’s “Giggin’” found Marsalis on soprano saxophone and although the avant-garde tendencies of the tune’s composer were clearly audible, there was more of a sense of Marsalis making the piece his own. A funky “16th Street Baptist Church” brought with it some of the key moments of Marsalis’ performance, as his extended improvisation included some coy moments where “worrying a phrase” seemed to suspend time in animation. “Mr. J.J.” put Calderazzo in the spotlight for a full throttle romp as well as Watts, who would be the inspiration for the wild encore. “Blue Tain” would bring to the stage a large number of musicians who were on hand earlier in the day for a classic jam session, including drummer Carl Allen, saxophonists Marcus Strickland and Diego Rivera, and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Not something usually seen at this festival, the format seemed to provide a great way to wind down the evening.
Sunday, September 1