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Live Reviews

2003 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival

By Published: October 15, 2003

It was then over to the Pyramid stage to wrap up the evening with a few numbers from the Greg Osby Quartet. Drummer Eric McPherson was central to Osby’s conception, one that has mellowed over the years but which still is a bit left of center. Bassist Matt Brewer has been working with Osby since April and proved to be a great technician in the lineage of Cecil McBee or Richard Davis, although pianist Megumi Yonezawa was somewhat less impressive and added little to the overall mix. Getting underway with “Jitterbug Waltz,” Osby segued from one number to the next which after a while proved problematic, as you wished for just a bit more time to process and digest each number before moving onto the next. A set highlight was an “avant funk” version of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” that also included a killer drum solo from McPherson.

Heading to the Pyramid stage for the first act on Sunday afternoon, I immediately noticed that there was no Hammond B3 set up for what I was sure was to be a set by organist Bill Heid. Instead, Bill opted for a piano trio performance that ended up being no less engaging in the long run, even if Bill had a hard time seeing his band mates with his back facing them on stage. Both “Eating in Progress” and “Gypsy Without a Song” revealed a strong affinity for the trio recordings of McCoy Tyner (of course, astute fans will remember that Tyner recorded the latter on his McCoy Plays Ellington album). His hip and idiosyncratic vocals also had much in common with Mose Allison, a funky spin on “Night and Day” and his own “Falling By Degrees” being particularly memorable. Heid even threw in some boogie-woogie numbers that more than amply demonstrated he has the chops to do just about anything. Maybe a piano trio album is in his future.

Over the course of the weekend, Detroit native Marcus Belgrave hosted three trumpet summits wherein he highlighted the talents of some up and coming players and varied the rhythm sections. I was able to catch a few numbers on Sunday afternoon as he first shared the stage with the Oberlin College Jazz Ensemble and then fronted his own group with pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Andrew Klein, and drummer Kariem Riggins. Youngsters Chris Johnson, Josiah Woodson, Greg Glassman, Maurice Brown, Shawn Jones, John Douglas, and Dominick Farinacci traded licks on a few jam session warhorses, while Belgrave looked on with a smile.

Later in the evening at the main stage, James Moody kept the crowd happy with some lively bebop and a whole lot of laughs thanks to his comedic stories and one-liners. The band was a solid one, with pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Rufus Reid, and Anthony Pinciotti on drums. “Sonnymoon For Two” included fleet tenor work from Moody, while he sang a chorus or two on “Pennies From Heaven” and the prototypical “Moody’s Mood.” Also to be enjoyed was some mercurial flute work on the standard “Cherokee.” Unfortunately, I was not able to catch the whole set because I needed to make it over to the Waterfront stage for another act. It was at about this time that the clouds darkened and the raindrops that seemed to be toying with us all afternoon finally made their appearance. It would make the rest of the evening a soggy mess to say the least.

My evening concluded with first a set by baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and then one from Russell Gunn and his Ethnomusicology band. Wielding that monster of a horn, Cuber roamed the stage with the intensity of a lion on the hunt, tearing his way through some especially masterful solos. In fact, Cuber’s set had to be the best of the entire festival, thanks to some imaginative charts and the sensational drumming of Jonathan Blake. Horace Silver’s “Tokyo Blues” managed to built to a fiery intensity that even surpassed the original recording. “Summertime” was almost unrecognizable in a complex arrangement that shifted between funk, salsa, and a fast son montuno. Unfortunately, Russell Gunn’s set over at the Pyramid stage was far less satisfactory. With a delayed start time due to an intricate stage set up, things sounded somewhat unsettled and stayed that way as the trumpeter threw in doses of rap with ‘70s Miles into a mix that was one-dimensional and at times meandering.

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