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Live Reviews

2002 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival

By Published: March 12, 2004
Things would get off to a slow start Sunday over at the main Amphitheatre Stage. Mexican native and Detroit mainstay Francisco Mora held forth with his Latin American ensemble that included a full horn section, yet the results overall seemed perfunctory at best. Another local star, organist Gerard Gibbs got things back on track with a stylish and funky set that made the most of the leader’s own estimable chops and those of guitarist Perry Hughes. “Killer Joe” and Jimmy Smith’s “Off the Top” were just two of the scorching numbers that made this act a real crowd pleaser.

Back over to the Waterfront Stage, pianist D.D. Jackson was set to debut his current power trio featuring bassist Ugonna Okegwo and up and coming drum great Dafnis Prieto. In my humble opinion, this was justly the most incendiary and rousing performance of the lot. Jackson has a way of telling a story, starting at a slow simmer and then turning the heat up to full boil. Furthermore, within that framework he may throw in some stride phrases, a dose of Cecil Taylor, and some churchy gospel strains to boot. As solid as Okegwo always is, it would be Prieto who would play the most prominent role in the group after Jackson, contributing musical and technically stunning forays at every turn. Cuts from his recent album, Sigame, such as “Jam Band” and “The Welcoming” brought raves from a crowd that offered appreciation commensurate with what could only be described as jazz at its best.

After a very rewarding set with Dr. Lonnie Smith and his trio, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg told me it was his first gig with the organist and he was dealing with a broken amplifier, yet you would have never known it. Kreisberg, along with drummer Matt Wilson, responded to Smith’s every move with telepathic accuracy and the organist himself seemed to be having an especially good time as he turned out such comical originals as “Your Mama’s Got a Complex.” With turban on head and a flowing red silk robe, Smith’s facial contortions and audible grunts and groans made him as visually beguiling as he was musically stimulating. Wilson’s extended stay on “Caravan” provided further evidence of his chameleon-like character, a virtue that makes him one of the first-call drummers on the New York scene (Wilson, a genuinely nice fella, gave me an earful after the show of his recent activities, including gigs with Dewey Redman, David Gilmore, Dena DeRose, and Denny Zeitlin).

As Sunday wound down, my time had to be split between violinist Regina Carter’s Quintet and guitarist Mark Whitfield’s set over at the Pyramid Stage. With a healthy mix that was as much jazz as it was Latin-inflected, Carter seemed to astound the crowd over the course of her generous set. Whitfield played to a smaller throng, but was no less charismatic. On his opening gambit, he almost attacked the guitar with a lengthy and dazzling spot that was truly something to witness. “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” might have turned down the tempo, but Whitfield and his trio still seemed hell bent on draining every bit of substance from Herbie Hancock’s ‘60s classic.

Labor Day brought with it a decidedly less provocative line-up, holding the performances of Geri Allen and Joey DeFrancesco until late in the day. As such, for the first time in several years, I opted to skip the festivities on Monday and catch an earlier than usual ride back home to Cleveland. This begs a question, of course. Instead of overlapping so many fine acts on Saturday and Sunday, could they have been spread out over the entire weekend? On a different tangent, there also seemed to be less in the way of Latin/Brazilian music that usually befits the “International” status which is a part of the festival’s nomenclature. Still, beggars can’t always be choosers and there was music enough to satisfy all but the most jaded fan.

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