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Live Reviews

2000 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival

By Published: March 12, 2004
After a trip through the tunnel and a bite to eat in Windsor, with the exchange rate proving to be a major windfall, it was time to stake out seats for the evening’s headliner, Donald Harrison, Jr.. With his natty threads and some hip repartee, the saxophonist delivered his own jazz message, which manages to be true to the mainstream while also borrowing from other contemporary forms such as rap and hip-hop. In lesser hands, tunes such as “Mr. Cool Breeze” and “Feelin’ Jazzy Baby” might be tossed off as merely clichés of the “pop jazz” variety, however Harrison and his gifted rhythm section are steeped in the tradition and this clearly sets them apart from the rest of the crowd. Even the smart and sassy rap routine that Harrison delivered on “Nouveau Swing” never seemed contrived and appeared to be just another color from Harrison’s broad palette.

About a fourth of a way through the set, fellow New Orleans native Christian Scott took the stage for a featured spot on “Misty.” All of just 17 years old, the trumpeter developed his solo with a confidence and logic that was noteworthy considering his age. Clearly impressed, Harrison kept Scott on for the rest of the set, which included two encores. Propelled by drummer John Lamkin's “second line” shuffle, the closing “Oleo” took on a new life. Harrison pulled out all the stops with a solo of great agility, while Scott opened up with a quote from “Dizzy Atmosphere” that provided the kernel for his subsequent lines. Harrison knows how to work a crowd, but he also expertly treads that line between entertainment and art- a rare balance indeed!

Sunday, September 3

A bit more intimate of an atmosphere with excellent sound proving to be an asset, the smaller Motor City Casino stage held forth with a great Sunday afternoon line-up, although the sun was blazing and the shade of an umbrella was the only likely solution to keep from frying. Still, the temperature was just right for the saucy brand of samba and bossa nova that marked a boisterous set from the group Brasil Brazil. Fronted by Los Angeles-based vocalists Ana Gazzola and Sonia Santos, this seven-piece company made the most of such smartly arranged Brazilian standards as “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Mas Que Nada”, and “Agua De Beber.” In addition to a drummer and two percussionists, Gazzola and Santos picked up a drum or two from time to time and when the whole group was in motion they managed to conjure up the spirit of the samba schools during Carnival. A great routine also introduced some of the most common Brazilian percussion instruments by name, complete with demonstration- a bit of education on the side, if you will! A major surprise for many, Brasil Brazil’s performances (they also took to the larger Ford/Verizon Wireless stage later that afternoon) were the talk of the day, making them a group to keep an eye on if your tastes gravitate towards such equatorial pleasures.

Although he made a few albums for Atlantic in the ‘60s which have since become collector’s items, Rufus Harley has not been heard from much over the past few decades. Nonetheless, he continues to hold the distinction of being the first and finest practitioner of the jazz bagpipes. Making a rare appearance outside of his current home in the Philadelphia area, Harley’s Sunday afternoon performance found him leading a Detroit rhythm section including pianist Teddy Harris, Jr., bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and drummer George Davidson. Dressed in kilt and appropriate Scotch attire, Harley made a grand entrance from the top of the stands with the traditional “Amazing Grace,” only to then coax the band into a blues-inflected waltz tempo that made Harley a crowd pleaser immediately. Now, get this for a strange brew that somehow hit the spot- put “Stormy Weather” to a bossa beat and set Harley wailing on the melody! Between his witty banter and obvious talents, one couldn’t help but be taken in by this jazz sage.

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