30th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival

Matt Marshall By

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Hank Jones / Corea, Clarke & White
Sean Jones / Dave Brubeck Quartet / Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
Alfredo Rodriguez / Dennis Coffey / Wayne Shorter Quartet
Chuchito Valdes / Stefon Harris & Blackout
30th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival
Detroit, Michigan
September 4-7, 2009

The Detroit International Jazz Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary over Labor Day Weekend 2009, using the occasion to honor one of Motown's greatest jazz families. Adopting a "Keepin' Up With the Joneses" theme, the festival shone a light on the legacy of Hank Jones, Elvin Jones and Thad Jones, while taking a look at jazz families in general.

Pianist Hank Jones, the only surviving brother of the three, kicked off the festival with his trio on Friday night, and music and talks throughout the weekend focused on the impact of each Jones brother. Additionally, there was a host of "family reunions" scheduled: Dave Brubeck with his sons Brubeck Brothers Quartet, The Heath Brothers, Jimmy Heath and Albert "Tootie" Heath, John Pizzarelli and Bucky Pizzarelli, Larry Coryell and Julian Coryell, Pete Escovedo and Juan Escovedo, Clayton Brothers and Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, which currently features his daughter Savannah and son Karma. It felt an appropriate way to celebrate the festival's rich history as one of the largest free music festivals in the world, where the door is wide open and everyone is welcome.

September 4: Hank Jones

In getting the festival underway, 91-year-old pianist Hank Jones and his trio ran through 13 easy-swing and bop numbers that were mostly of a piece: technically proficient, graceful, charming, but also rather programmed and rarely helping the blood to race.

Some exceptions to this formula were the trio's take on Ben Tucker and Bob Dorough's "Comin' Home Baby" and the Ned Washington-Victor Youngstandard, "Stella by Starlight." Jones opened the former with a repetitive chord figure that emphatically handled the rhythm on its own. To this he added some skipping right-hand lines that, like a world-class sprinter, were swift without ever showing their effort. With Jones tight on the rhythm, bassist George Mraz was free to explore the upper reaches of his instrument, an exercise he later took to melodic heights on "Stella." Drummer Carl Allen, whose solo work in this setting rarely broke from a marching-corps routine, also turned in his most diverse and expressive statement on "Stella," whisking his brushes over the trap set to create a hushed starlight mood.

Jones, nimble throughout the set, fashioned an especially tender interpretation of Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born," and cut from tender to a keep-the-party-going Latin beat on the encore, Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." Would that we could all be so defiant as the nonagenarian and push aside time at last call.

September 4: Corea, Clarke & White

The headline act for the evening was introduced as "Chick Corea," with the indication that the pianist could introduce the others in the trio. But once the music started, there was no question that this was a three-name act, with all players on equal footing.

Bassist Stanley Clarke especially impressed (and was, after all, positioned at center stage). His extra-worldly skill ran roughshod over the length of his strings, his right hand resorting at times to palm smacks, thumb swats and other—unknowable—manners of attack to augment his bright, fluid lines with percussive snap and guitar-like strumming. Drummer Lenny White shown on Monk's "Straight No Chaser," in which his left-hand stick rocked steady on the cymbal throughout, refusing to flinch even on the solo, where White's right hand simply went to work. More than just an astounding feat of control and stamina, it created a distinct, layered effect of dual drumming—the visual and sonic spectacle meshing to elicit a powerful response.

All this is not to say that Corea sat idly by, resting on Steinway laurels. His solo piano opened many of the tunes, as he worked from soft melodies or cutting block chords into jumping, articulate statements that traded his famous electric keyboard hum for the more bracing tones of the acoustic ivories. During even his most forceful attacks, Corea's hands would float up from the keys, hover for the slightest instant, then lovingly descend, like pollinating bees—it was difficult at times to reckon the soft motion with the rash of sounds it produced. And his interplay with Clarke, especially on "Straight No Chaser," was chest-expanding, the two musicians looping in completion of or engendering one another's thoughts.


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