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Live Reviews

Detroit International Jazz Festival 2008

By Published: September 16, 2008
But then the band, led by Robinson, would break loose again hard. And by the time trombonist Vincent Chandler joined the affair, working his slide seemingly over rumble strips to produce a staccato blast, Hargrove was back to his devilish shenanigans, passing it around in large doses to pianist Gerald Clayton and drummer Montez Coleman, who exchanged laughter throughout the rest of the set.

Caught in the mix of this company, bassist Danton Boller, clad in a striped button-down and khaki slacks, looked like a last minute sub from the festival's finance department. Oh, but wait—this boy can bust it! Like in some bad Hollywood movie (which is to say, like in some Hollywood movie) Boller quickly stepped up when given his chance and revealed the mean beats that lay beneath the accountant exterior.


By the time Hargrove's band started into the opening strains of Sam Cooke's "Bring It To Me," it had already won several standing ovations. But this seventh number of their set pushed the crowd over the top, stoking the biggest, most unconscious ovation this observer saw during the entire weekend.

The inevitable encore was lit by Boller, who turned a linear solo into a funk beat that brought the other musicians back on stage. Hargrove punctuated this final number by plugging the mike halfway down his trumpet's throat till it gasped sudden deep burps. Trombonist Chandler worked himself into a frenzy while playing, until he had himself, and everyone else in attendance, strutting off into the night.

September 1: Kenny Barron Trio


There's perhaps no better accompaniment to lazing in the hot afternoon sun than the sounds of the Kenny Barron Trio.

Barron is as technically proficient a pianist as you'll find, weaving both the abruptness of Monk and the pretty flourishes of Oscar Peterson into his playing. And he has the discipline to stay within a song's intent, choosing to the agreed upon story line instead of exiting into detours of personal grandeur. This afternoon's second offering, a Barron original entitled "Um Beijo," was a good case in point. Looping out only slightly from the center of the keyboard, Barron kept the piece fixed tightly like the firm press of the titular kiss—flights of emotional fancy running back and away always from the grounding center of the physical reality present on the lips.

Yet Barron can become mired in technique, making intriguing study for the well-educated musician, but leaving the layman feeling that the piano may have been prepped with disinfectant—so clinical might he find the master's performance. The machine-like skill is beyond impressive, but sometimes you wish for a mistake to shoot down from the stage and rip at your gut.

Luckily, Barron brought along bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa to counter the haze and daze of the sun. On "New York Attitude" the man from Japan strummed loose rousing tones from the East—harmonics that could have just as easily sprung from a koto. Cuban drummer Francisco Mela played a fiery set, launching himself over the drum kit on one occasion to settle the cymbals with his elbows.

Near the end of the trio's performance, Barron put his technical skills on full display with a solo rendition of Eubie Blake's "Memories of You." It was as dazzling as the sun, but just as out of reach.

James Carter Septet

There perhaps could not be a stronger contrast to Barron's style than that of James Carter. His art lies in pushing at the frame of a given musical number, a given instrument, to see how far it will stretch, then twisting it some other way to see what that does. Inevitably with this type of playing, things break. But so what? Carter just tosses those splinters aside like the handful of reeds he discarded during this set—a bit annoyed, disgusted perhaps, but confident the fault lay in the arrangement of equipment, or the hairline slip of a finger—never does it scare him off trying again.


Undoubtedly, this is one reason he has a penchant for switching between horns and picking up those usually reserved for the symphony stage, as when he brought out the bass clarinet on this evening. His experiments run from the startling to the hilarious, often on the heels of one another, as with the opening number here, his soprano sax screeching like a pterodactyl that at song's close became wounded and dropped from the sky completely out of breath.

And either this renegade spirit is infectious or Carter gathers those around him with the same joy—no doubt, the need—of pushing it. I'm guessing the latter.

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