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Live Reviews

30th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival

By Published: September 22, 2009

After a handful of tunes, the trio returned to the stage for an anthemic yet playful take on Corea's "Spain" that ended with the pianist conducting a call and response from the crowd: the thousands in attendance singing several of Corea's improvised bars back to him. Detroit had certainly been warmed up for the weekend.

September 5: Sean Jones

Not only has trumpeter Sean Jones

Sean Jones
Sean Jones
arrived, he's settled in and is busy changing the wallpaper and drapes. For those wondering where mainstream jazz is heading or those already crying over its demise, Jones' set was the event not to miss at this year's festival. The trumpeter and his quintet came out hard and didn't let up for six rounds.

Opening with two original compositions, "Transitions" and "Life Cycles" (the latter inspired by Microsoft Windows' four-tone boot-up and shutdown music), Jones and saxophonist Brian Hogans led the group in establishing a melodic yet riff-heavy foundation in the hard bop mold. Jones, who switched to flugelhorn for the second number, opened each of his solos with soft, heat-tempering breaths—contemplative but kinetic—that brushed clean his canvas. He then filled it again with bright slashing colors, long broad strokes and rainbow spit. The sleepy-eyed Hogans favored halting, Bird-like bop passages and R&B swoons that were picked up by pianist Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans
Orrin Evans
. The numbers bespoke force, but were mere kickings in the sandbox compared to the strong-armed throttling that was to come.

On John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
's "Resolution," the group reached a fever pitch—and quickly! Evans opened the piece, bending heavy on the keys. And after the horns stated the theme, Evans leaned in harder, working repeated right-hand blues figures and angular left-hand block chords into a tremor that made his piano—and the crowd along with it—jump. Jones wasted no time building here, but entered from Evans peak and went up, trilling in the high register and piercing with bright metal swaths. Hogans twined flurries of notes into a rolling ball of music, snipped only by the occasional squawk into a lower register. He took chorus after chorus, not letting up till he'd had his say and then exiting to the corner of the stage, victorious but dazed like Muhammad Ali after his 14th round with Joe Frazier in Manila. Drummer Josh Davis took it from there, fashioning a multidimensional crashing that led back to the theme.

The group followed with two melodic numbers, Hogans' "Summer's Spring," into which Jones worked the tender, fluttering warble of a newborn chick, and Jones' "Mama," a soulful dedication to the trumpeter's mother. They closed with a last hard bop number, "The Storm," but the hurricane had already blown in their masterful, passionate reading of Coltrane.

September 5: Dave Brubeck Quartet

Iconic pianist Dave Brubeck's best musical years are certainly behind him. At 88, no one's expecting him to make a 50th-anniversary follow-up to "Time Out" (Columbia, 1959) that will once again knock the jazz world off kilter. Some may turn out to his shows simply to see the man—to pay homage—while others are perhaps more morbidly curious to see what he's got left.

Well, the answer is, quite a bit. While not as dexterous as he once was (he shied away from extended bits on his groundbreaking "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Take Five," for example), he knows how to lead a band and to work within himself to paint beautiful, emotive music with surprising misdirections.

A pretty, minimalist "Mood Indigo" jumbled time dreamlike (and, to be sure, Brubeck-like), leading organically into a "Take the A Train" that was carried primarily by saxophonist Bobby Militello

Bobby Militello
Bobby Militello
sax, alto
. Brubeck broke up the crowd by faking a heart attack at the sound of a mike stand crashing over and passed the bulk of the set with a broad smile on his lips, thoroughly enjoying his own musical contributions and those of his mates, as if he were just discovering the magic of making music. He pumped his fist to celebrate one of Militello's passages and frequently leaned in over his piano to get a better listen at what the others were doing—studying, seemingly, ever-learning and ingesting—and loving every minute of it. Then giving back, as in the group's rendering of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," which Brubeck opened with showman, time-shifting flare, then took back at its close, completely and effortlessly changing the texture to exit on classical lines that were nonetheless singularly Brubeckian.

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