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Live Reviews

Detroit International Jazz Festival 2008

By Published: September 16, 2008
A standout of the set was a heartsick rendering of "'Round Midnight," bookended by power chords that seemed to signal the electric thrill that can accompany the beginning of a new day. In between was the let down, the mood struck on an easy chair in the dark, maybe with a drink in your hand, reflecting on a day wasted. A mood that all too easily turns back on every other day you've let slip through your fingers. Martino's quick, yet heavy notes raced like dangerous thoughts. But in his wisdom, the maestro didn't leave his audience there in the dark, but, before the ride stopped, lifted them back to the promise of that new day.

August 31: Ravi Coltrane's Tribute to Alice, with Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Brandee Younger and Ed Feldman

Ravi Coltrane will forever carry the weight of Papa John on his shoulders. It's the blessing and curse of all children who enter into the same line of work as a wildly successful parent. The trick being to make your own impact without rejecting your roots.

The trick is confounded for Ravi since his mother wielded considerable influence in the jazz world as well. While less known outside the jazz and new age communities, Alice Coltrane's career spanned more than 40 years and continued the exploration of jazz's spiritual and avant reaches begun at John's side.

It was Mother Coltrane, who passed away in January 2007, to whom Ravi paid tribute on this hot afternoon in Detroit, bringing together musicians who had played with her (bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette), were led to their instrument through her inspiration (pianist Geri Allen) and who evoke the spiritual realm of her music (harpist Brandee Younger and tamboura and tabla player Ed Feldman).

Ravi certainly has the family lips. His sound is full and roomy like his dad's, but as he plays you can hear him carving out his own hollow in the oak, at times catching the grain and scooping out easy notches of originality, at others, striking the knot of immortality and slipping back into the groove supreme. But he seems mostly to be winning the fight—on the verge of making a great singular statement in the coming years that might stand alongside anything produced by his father.

Geri Allen, per usual, was a terror on the keys—meaning she banged out everything great and stormy wild, yet remained wholly in control, like a force of nature that'll return to tranquility only after it's burned itself out. When she melded with Haden and DeJohnette, the trio filled more sonic space than would seem possible for piano, bass and drums.

Younger's harp came on in the set's third number, adding sleep waves to the crash of the aforementioned storm trio. The Eastern buzz of Feldman's tamboura added to the harp's dream and signaled the band was venturing into more spiritual waters. Coltrane's tenor sailed over top of the mix like Odysseus heading home.

A trademark Haden dirge, "For Turiya," which he played with Alice on his album Closeness, (A & M, 1976) followed, displaying the ability to take flight that's present in all of Haden's best music, rising to the anthemic spirit of revolution.

DeJohnette put on a clinic of multidimensional drumming that brought the audience to it feet at the set's close, demanding an encore. For this final number, Coltrane brought out one of his mother's final compositions, "Universe," a haunting ballad that left the crowd in the type of contemplative state for which Alice no doubt was aiming.

August 31: Roy Hargrove Quintet

On the opening night of the festival, emcee Lem Barney observed that athletes often are frustrated entertainers and entertainers often are frustrated athletes. Barney made the case for athletes, singing and prancing about the stage in a pent-up need to entertain. Two nights later, Roy Hargrove proved the point about entertainers.

After firing off trumpet ballistics, Hargrove would stride from center stage like he'd just sacked the quarterback on fourth down. At one moment during the set, he accompanied a Justin Robinson sax solo with a jab and a poor attempt at an Ali shuffle.

Yet this athletic spirit found its true voice in Hargrove's music, his horn soaring into a register so high it would skip for a brief moment beyond the very reaches of sound. It would then drop into an extended trill that, if anything, steadily gained force as it stretched.

Coming in on the trumpeter's heels (those which had quickly excused Hargrove's body from the stage after another amazing play), Robinson's solos often started slow, restoring matters to earth, setting the crowd back on terra firma. At first this seemed a revelation to Hargrove, standing suddenly stock-still on the sidelines, looking every bit the goateed saint, a tragic jazz angel—like Dolphy—a sleepy-eyed thinker wounded by all things life.

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