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38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Closing out the evening following Dease, west coast mainstay Billy Childs presented his singular compositions and other trinkets with the aid of a crackling quartet that contained saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Ari Hoenig. Childs as a pianist is unrivaled and his touch and taste made the Horace Silver gem "Peace" sparkle with angelic light. "Dance of Shiva" featured fast arpeggiated runs and intricate drum interjections from Hoenig, who often looked like a man possessed as he attacked his drum kit. "The Windmills of Your Mind" sounded anything but dated or sappy in Childs' hands, bountiful of collective interaction between the pianist, Glawischnig and Hoenig. Operating at full throttle, this ensemble impressed many with its flawless execution and inspired abandon. Seen after the set, drummer Hoenig was visited by Jack DeJohnette who earlier had taken the amphitheater stage with the group Hudson. It would be just one of many examples of the camaraderie that thrives at this festival.

Although further performances would be in the offing at the other stages Saturday evening, many folks opted to head off site to the Carr Center where Rodney Whitaker planned to lead a jam session in tribute to the recently deceased Geri Allen. Getting underway a bit past ten o'clock and lasting into the wee hours, this gathering would also feature drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Young musicians waited in the wings to get their chance to take the stage in a manner that has been part and parcel of jazz tradition since the beginning. Furthermore, director Oliver Ragsdale, Jr. revealed that Allen's work and legacy with the Carr Center would be carried on by Carrington and Bridgewater, news that was received with great fanfare.

Sunday's offerings included a set by Michigan native Ron English, a guitarist of great skill and taste who over the years has worked with a list of greats including Kenny Cox, Gladys Knight, and The Four Tops. Having recently reissued his underground funk classic, Fish Feet, English wisely revisited several cuts from the 70s set to the delight of the audience. A real sleeper, this set spoke to the range of talent Detroit has produced over the past several decades.

By contrast, pianist Henry Butler brought an overtly euphoric party to the Waterfront stage. His rollicking and ebullient style proved to be a crowd pleaser as he whooped and walloped vocally along with his barrelhouse piano. It came as no surprise that the Mardi Gras standard "Iko Iko" even provided the atmosphere for some dancing on the stage sidelines. Billy Preston's familiar "Will It Go Round in Circles" wrapped up Butler's set and managed to take on a completely new face thanks to Butler's ingenuity and supportive backing group.

Switching over to the main stage at Campus Martius, the New York heavyweights were out in full force for John Beasley and his big band. The Monkestra with it coy moniker would present an ambitious reworking of familiar Thelonious Monk pieces delivered up in grand style by this ensemble featuring trumpeter Brian Lynch, trombonist Conrad Herwig, saxophonist Gregory Tardy, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Terreon Gully.

The fireworks were many during a generous set, including a guest appearance by violinist Regina Carter on "Getting Sentimental Over You" and a boisterous solo from trombonist Frank Lacy on "Light Blue." Gully utilized a funky backbeat to propel "Skippy" and then unleashed a corker of a solo to boot. Both Lynch and Herwig offered textbook statements on "Evidence," a quirky number known for its inherent challenges. Beasley's own "Monk's Processional" sent the ensemble on its way sporting its elated second line stomp.

As the evening began to wind down, the options were still many. Back at the amphitheater, Wayne Shorter was heard in yet another setting, this time with pianist Leo Genovese, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. For a more intimate vibe, there was the revelation of hearing Detroit native and established heavyweight Alex Harding at the Whiskey Parlor, a quaint and welcoming pub on Woodward that boasted a free cover and some incendiary music from the fire-blowing baritone saxophonist who has gigged with David Murray, Lester Bowie and the Sun Ra Arkestra.

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