2000 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival
Although rehearsals with the local rhythm section had probably not been in the cards, the chemistry developed very quickly between Harley and the trio and drummer Davidson seemed to push the envelope in a way that sparked the entire ensemble. For variety, Harley picked up a curved soprano saxophone that he used on a few numbers and also brought to the bandstand his son Messiah on trumpet, who seemed almost reticent to do much more than support the heads and take a few unexceptional solos of his own. Closing his set with spoken introduction and a sense of anticipation, Harley launched into a tour-de-force by sailing through “God Save the Queen” and other anthems, subsequently interspersing an Irish gig or two with “We Will Overcome” and “A Love Supreme.” It was global awareness on a grand and musical scale, with Harley gaining new devotees by the handful.
Back to the main stage, the closing performance of the evening would feature the Mingus Big Band. A band of leaders and first rank artists in their own right, saxophonist Alex Foster was nominally calling the shots this time around (Steve Slagle has done similar for some time now and his absence was noted). Devoted to performing the repertoire of the late composer and bassist Charles Mingus, the band’s set got underway with “Moanin’,” it’s characteristic melody voiced in the lower register by the baritone saxophone of Gary Smulyan. For pianist David Kikoski’s spell the tempo shifted to an up 4/4 and he replied with a series of punctuated fourths a la McCoy Tyner. Not letting up the pace, “Haitian Fight Song” featured an incendiary solo from trombonist Conrad Herwig, who slyly worked in a quote from Shorter’s “Witch Hunt” (ah, fighting and hunting- quite a burly crew!). As a change of pace, late period Mingus in the form of Joni Mitchell’s “Sweet Sucker Dance” provided space for tenor saxophonist Mark Shim.
In a sardonic twist, a quick suggestion of “Yankee Doodle” then gave to the classic “Fables of Faubus,” complete with vocal interjections as provided by saxophonist John Stubblefield and bassist Andy McKee. Vincent Herring’s alto also held forth for an extended stay. With an emphasis on group interaction and changing tempos, the final two numbers offered much in the way of excitement. Stubblefield’s gutbucket tenor spoke volumes during “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion” and the entire band caught the spirit for “Better Git It In Your Soul.” Repertory jazz is seldom played with this kind of fervor and how often do you get the chance outside of New York to catch so many heavyweights on one stage?
Monday, September 4
With a cold front moving through, what had been a sweltering weekend had given way to a chilly Labor Day. By the time that New York collective One For All took the main stage at 5:30, the wind was picking up and the sun’s lingering rays were dwindling. Making an out of the ordinary appearance away from the Big Apple, the group had become a favorite of director Ed Love’s through their series of recordings for Criss Cross and Sharp Nine. He vowed to bring them to Detroit and by the response of the crowd his decision had proven to be a sagacious one. Fronted by tenor man Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, and trombonist Steve Davis, this spirited group gets its rhythmic backing from pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
Strong writing and solo work of the no-holds-barred variety has distinguished One For All from the start and Alexander’s opening “Straight Up” announced that these guys were there to kick butt and take no prisoners. “Betcha By Golly Wow” was next and Hazeltine’s inventive arrangement gave just a taste of what has become the pianist’s calling card. But then each member is so gifted that the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Steve Davis contributed his “Echoes in the Night,” which found Rotondi bristling with emotion in the best of the Hubbard/Shaw tradition. Alexander’s fluency over the entire range of the instrument, along with a earnest approach, marked his solo on “The Good Life,” which was also distinguished by a loping shuffle beat. Although the group had planned to close with “D’s Blues,” dedicated by Alexander on this evening to Detroit, the crowd begged for more and a foot tapping Hazeltine original, “We All Love Eddie Harris” brought the audience together with some solid hand clapping at four to the bar. A major highlight of the fest, One For All provided strong evidence that the jazz tradition is in good hands.