30th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival
Brubeck's sons, trombonist Chris and drummer Dan, and their band, who had played earlier in the day, joined Dad for three pieces, including "Blue Rondo" and "Take Five." It was a family affair welcomed and shared by the crowd, and one that added interesting new wrinkles to the Brubeck classics, most notably in the adventurous harmonica work of Peter "Madcat" Ruth and in the extended, furious drum solo from Dan on the "Take Five" closer. Yet, throughout, it was Dave Brubeck's contemplative, still exploratory and exuberant tapping of the keys that sparked the music and showed that the master hasn't yet pulled all of the rabbits out of his hat.
September 5: Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
There's no resisting Brian Auger and his Oblivion Express. Now working with his offspring, singer Savannah and drummer Karma, and bassist Andreas Geck, the fiery 70-year-old keyboardist is still, in his own words, "out here kicking your ass!" The Oblivion's music is hard-charging soul, sparking a thump and expansion in even the most marble of chests. If you don't loose a scream, a fist pump, a "hell yeah!" or, at least, some serious foot tappin' during an Oblivion set, you're simply not human.
Herbie Hancockonce praised Auger for his "unparalleled and relentless" energy on the Hammond B-3. Auger's right hand digs into the keys as if to keep them at bay, his left punching the beast's body and swatting its tail. Sporting a bright blue-collared shirt graced with the large heads of Manga characters, the keyboardist led his group through their usual suspects, including Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," "Straight Ahead," "Season of the Witch" and Gene McDaniels "Compared to What." But routine mattered littlethe energy, the power, was always fresh. Savannah's clean, soulful voice soared on "Witch" and "Compared to What." Karma, always striking the serious, if not downright pissed, visage, busted thunderous solos on "Indian Rope Man" and, especially, on "Whenever You're Ready," where his fury grew from a cow-bell-infused tropical beat. "Indian Rope Man" also featured a funky guitar-like bass solo from Geck, who has been given more space to stretch during longer sets.
And at the edgethe head of the table, as it weresat or stood Pops, pumping out swamp-fed electric soul, blues and funk, sweating and grunting over his work one moment, then turning to eye the crowd in the next, gauging their reactiontheir groovethen digging into the teeth of his beast to take the groove higher.
September 6: Alfredo Rodriguez
23-year-old pianist Alfredo Rodriguezmade his Detroit debut with a rousing afternoon set of solo piano pieces that bridged classical and bop motifs with a spark of Dixieland and cubanismo and employed popular touchstones from the collective American consciousness. The son of a famed Cuban singer of the same name, Alfredo defected from his homeland in January and has been taken under the wing of Quincy Jones, who is producing the pianist's first record.
Having been introduced to Thelonious Monk's music just six years ago, Rodriguez has already internalized Monk's jarring mode of attack. He says he most admires Monk's constant thirst for explorationalways a wonderful sentiment to hear from a young artist in this marketing-crazed world that prefers to stamp out the same slick product.
Rodriguez began his set here in the somber, melancholic mood of the Russian classicists that after a time was sparked by the island rap of a percussion foot pedal. The piece then opened, inviting influences from around the globe, which Rodriguez pounded passionately into his instrument or stroked from it with an aggressive sweeping of the keys.
The second number was more wistful and melodic, often finding Rodriguez shrugging his shoulders in contemplation or in agreeable resignation to where the music was telling him to go. He remained bent over the keys for several moments after the piece had ended, still transfixed by its spell.
The third piece was his most Monkian, opening with a repeated right-hand figure that freed the left to explore the entire stretch of keys in mostly clunky, rattling chord shots. He went on through a sort of Cuban ragtime that escalated into a series of power chords suddenly tempered on a dime by soft, but full touches. He stood for his fourth piece and worked the strings in the Steinway's belly, while playing the keys with his free right hand. Sitting, he again employed the percussion pedal in spots and, amidst a fury of angular exploration, continually found pastures of pure melody, touching on snippets of American popular song that thread together all in attendance and brought them along for the journey, humming.