Detroit International Jazz Festival 2008
Matt Perrine's sousaphone provided the expected New Orleans thump, but also loosed solos from its bell that would make a tenor sax beam with pride.
Mark Mullin's electric trombone dipped and swooned like any bone, but also substituted nicely as a second guitar, introducing the Led Zeppelin nugget "When the Levee Breaks" like a Gibson whose wah-wah pedal was running on low batteries. The horn chorus launched mid-song blew several audience members from their seats and set up a blues vocal by Mullins that had just as much power as his horn.
In fact, the singing numbers (handled alternately by Mullins and fellow trombonist Greg Hicks) gave the group a popular grounding that not only allowed their blasts into the avant-garde to be swallowed by the masses, but, more importantly, tethered the chugging funk and flights of screaming guitar onto a long, but secure leash that could be reeled in and let back out as the flow of the music dictated.
August 30: Christian McBride Band
As part of his artist-in-residence duties, Christian McBride hit stages throughout the festival grounds, playing with various groups of musicians specially gathered for the event. While the individual playing of all concerned was never an issue, the overall results didn't always knock your socks off.
But linked with his own band on the stage of the Carhartt Amphitheatre, McBride was able to display what makes him perhaps the greatest bassist working todaya musicianship that expands beyond individual chops (though those chops are considerable) to involve itself so intimately with the playing of his band mates it truly shapes the whole.
The set had an almost organic start, when the McBride original "Technicolor Nightmare" grew out of a last-minute sound check/tuning session into a heady swamp of keyboard and bowed bass noise.
Pianist Geoffrey Keezer worked his four keyboards to astonishing effect, stretching once to lay down Joey DeFrancesco-like swirls on the Fender Rhodes, while accompanying himself with guitar-sounding crunches from the keyboard set atop his piano.
McBride was soon plucking with his fingers, blasting a wah-wah bass that led that first number into a crazy, fantastic mess of a finish.
Keezer kicked off the second tune, a composition of his own titled "Hibiscus," with a sound akin to the opening strains of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly." He then turned matters over to Ron Blake for an extended solo on soprano sax. But Keezer slowly took the piece back, at one point introducing a sonic effect that brought to mind space bubbles drifting from his organ. McBride chuckled, and the keyboardist weaved in Asian touches that later morphed into the buzz of a harpsichord.
The third number (with the strangely formal Spanish title "Lejos de Usted," meaning "Far From You," but using the respectful usted form instead of the personal ti) found McBride back on the bow, stroking out mournful Bach-like passages, before switching to fingers to pluck out a wonderfully ornate, yet rhythmic, solo. Blake, now on flute, picked up the tune and ran off with it into Eric Dolphy territory.
Guitarist David Gilmore joined the group for their fourth offering, and he and McBride traded many superhuman licks and just as many smiles. Blake then took what had been a cool vibe and blew it out of the water with a lung-vibrating blast from his soprano sax. The rest of the band followed suit, playing the number out with a great rush of well-articulated noise. The crowd rose to its feet demanding an encore, and McBride didn't disappoint. He came out alone for an extended solo, then the other boys joined him to bring this modernist gem to a close.
August 31: Pat Martino Quartet
With his small red spectacles blazing in the afternoon sun and the tips of a sly grin pressed into his cheeks (making him look a cross between Ben Stein and C. Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons), Pat Martino, the wise old devil of the electric guitar, seemed to have something up his sleeve. And once he counted off the opening number, that something streaked down his arm and went straight to work on his Gibson.
Throughout the set, Martino burned off ridiculously long lines that never sagged from repetition. They existed somewhere between the single-note crispness of Grant Green and the reverb-leaden tones of Wes Montgomery, to whom Martino paid tribute with his latest album.
Indeed, Martino's band maintained a mid-'60s groove much of the afternoon. Pianist Rick Germanson sprinkled Martino's solos with McCoy Tyner touches that fed neatly into the classical flare of Germanson's own work in the spotlight.