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Live Reviews

30th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival

By Published: September 22, 2009

After two more pieces in which he displayed an unfaltering inventiveness and tickled tender ballads into roiling cauldrons of blocked time, Rodriguez returned to the stage to spin "Frere Jacques" from a work initially rendered as classically hewn crystal. The sudden return to childhood sent many in the audience into giggles. It was Rodriguez's most melodic, recognizable number and in its development cast shadows on its initial innocent humor, stretching the childhood rhyme through adolescence and on into the often darker, but deeper and more meaningful, strains of adulthood.

The set was an introduction to a young man who is already a major artist.

September 6: Dennis Coffey

Counter the above with the flashy, fiery guitar work of Motown veteran Dennis Coffey

Dennis Coffey
. Decked out like Panama Jack, Coffey wasted no time in defying the relaxed look by tearing off loud metal sheets of sound. His fingers ruled his axe with quick, technically proficient runs. Featuring two original compositions, including the heavily funky score to the "blaxploitation" flick Black Belt Jones, the guitarist produced bright, crisp guitar lines that steadily upped the ante till succumbing to a thrilling blaze of noise.

But while he then turned his attention to Motown hits like "My Girl" and "Just My Imagination"—smash records on which Coffey played and is in no small part responsible—his routine grew formulaic. His skill on the strings was impressive, but the metal blaze revealed itself as an artificial fire, flashing its orange, red and yellow flames in programmed order. The initial thrill sank into tired—if groovy—repetition. Unlike Rodriguez and Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
still to come and like many an extroverted party guest, Coffey continued to speak loudly even after he'd run out of things to say.

September 6: Wayne Shorter Quartet

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter has all the star power a jazz personality could want, and no one would fault him for standing at stage's edge, blowing his fame front and center over a band left to the shadows. But Shorter is a musician, not a celebrity. He prefers to keep himself in the shadows as well—or, at least, in equal lighting with his band—nestling in to the curve of the piano and playing his sax only when it's proper—when the music requires and is moved by it.

In fact, if there was a star in the band on this night—a musician whose passion for playing so affected his physical presence—it was unquestionably drummer Brian Blade

Brian Blade
Brian Blade
, who bounced around on his stool throughout the set, spiraling through a mix of drum sticks, mallets and brushes and attacking his kit like it was liable to bite him. At a point near the close of the group's performance (though there were pauses in the playing, it may not be proper to refer to the group's performance as a series of songs, but rather a single suite) Blade even rocketed from his stool and sprang out toward the front of the stage—so moved by the frenetic energy the band had created. He barely made it back in place in time to pick up the beat pianist Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
was after.

That said, Shorter's band was of a piece, as was their music. No performer, no instrument, jettisoned from the music to have an individual say. All was interwoven. Shorter was economical in the early going, where the temptation for a lesser artist would have been to blow fast and shine. Instead, the master saxophonist fashioned groupings of three or four notes, followed by ample space. His eyes peered out, seeing notes instead of adoring faces, and in those first stages his brain made more noise than his sax as he figured and refigured what lay ahead and how best to sculpt it—now, tonight, this time.

The rock in a group of younger, more physically vibrant players, Shorter gradually worked up the steam, though never giving way to extended passages of personal glory. Perez, bassist John Patitucci

John Patitucci
John Patitucci
and, especially, Blade were often left to add the thundering fury. Shorter swelled mostly when switching from tenor to soprano sax, using the higher register to burn off any pent-up energy that rose as exhaust from the group's carbonic interaction.

The riffs, the themes (if such they can be called) were mostly simple, repeated notes, but well-chosen. There was a gravitas to the music leavened by a vibrant—danceable—percussive rollick and chest-bending bass lines. An improvised creation of the highest order that employed musical tools and voices, and technical proficiency as automatic as breathing, to express what couldn't be expressed outside of music. To confront visceral planes of human experience and open them for the audience, rather than staging a musical track meet.

Shorter and company did not return to the stage for an encore for they'd already completed their emotionally riveting and depleting suite of music. Taking on some kind of command showstopper was not in order. It wasn't that kind of show.

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