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38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival

C. Andrew Hovan By

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38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival
Hart Plaza
Detroit, Michigan
September 1-4, 2017

Those of us who have been following jazz music for a long time know that there are definite changes in the landscape these days that are having a major impact on the music scene. For starters, we recently have lost a large number of irreplaceable jazz greats making for a scene that is not quite as vibrant as it once was. Additionally, marketing and promotion of jazz product has taken on a brand new face and one that it not necessarily musician friendly. And yet despite it all, this music that we know and love continues to thrive and we see it not only in the profundity of the elders, but also in the yearning and seeking of the youngsters looking to find their voices.

This cross-fertilization of the old and new was more than palpable this past Labor Day weekend as North America's largest free jazz festival swooped into downtown Detroit to take over the city for the long weekend. Despite the chilly temperatures on Friday evening, the masses were in attendance Friday night for a kickoff performance that included artist-in-residence Wayne Shorter and the Herbie Hancock.

Supported by his regular ensemble featuring pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, the 84-year-old Shorter let his band do much of the talking. His own statements were brief, but strong nonetheless. His soprano work was especially meaningful, buoyed by Blade's irregular cymbal patterns and Perez's fluttering chords. From the side of the stage, Herbie Hancock could be seen soaking in every minute of this treasurable performance.

Offering a taste of what he'd give the crowd the next day at the festival, bassist Miles Mosley and his band played a truncated set which allowed for the major stage change needed. Namely, the house piano was replaced by a beautiful Fazioli grand that literally sparkled under the stage lighting. Hancock and his cohorts would soon follow in short order for the main event and what proved to be a highlight of the entire festival.

With top-shelf rhythm partners James Genus on bass and studio legend Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Hancock kicked off with a freeform offering that covered a lot of ground. Fleshing out the harmonic textures and adding some spicy alto saxophone to the mix was Terrace Martin, known for such production credits as Kendrick Lamar and Stevie Wonder. "Actual Proof" featured a fleet-fingered piano solo from Hancock, despite an earlier comment that the cold temperatures were "not that good for my old fingers." It also put both Genus and Colaiuta in the spotlight for extended and dazzling displays of their musical prowess.

A tender ballad reading of "Come Running to Me" led into the iconic "Chameleon," which found Hancock bringing out his Roland keytar in order to jam side by side with both Martin and Genus. Still one of the great treasures in jazz, Hancock impressed with his facile touch and engaging storytelling.

Saturday's weather also brought with it below normal temperatures that seemed more in tune with fall than the end of summer. John Patitucci's early set over at the amphitheater featuring his Electric Guitar Quartet was a superb showcase for the dual guitars of Steve Cardenas and Adam Rogers. "Band of Brothers" hit the spot with its country twang, recalling the work of Marc Johnson's Bass Desires. A pair of Monk compositions, "Ugly Beauty" and "Four in One," were honed to perfection by Patitucci on his five and six string electric basses, supported by the animated Brian Blade.

Paying tribute to Shorter, Patitucci's own "The Watchman" painted its' distinctive vibe with broad strokes. One couldn't help but notice too how Blade's smile and exuberance recalled the late, great Billy Higgins. Rogers and Cardenas both had plenty to say in their respective moments, particularly on "I'm in Love" and the closing "Evidence," another Monk tune which Patitucci revamped with a Miles Davis funk feel circa the trumpeter's Jack Johnson period.

Later in the afternoon, up and coming trombonist Michael Dease offered a set at the Waterfront stage paying tribute to jazz heroes Curtis Fuller, J.J. Johnson, and Frank Rosolino. Dease was flanked by tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon and the front line added their own zip and vigor to a fine array of tunes associated with the aforementioned elders. Fuller's "Down Home" boasted a greasy shuffle groove propelled by drummer Keith Hall and bassist Rodney Whitaker, who took one of his typically melodic solos near the end of the number. Dease's original "Father Figure" sported a bop line that was voiced in unison by trombone and bass. It also showed up the talents of pianist Xavier Davis, a strong supporter and distinctive soloist at the same time.

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