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38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival

C. Andrew Hovan By

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All good things must come to an end and as the festival began to wind down on Monday, word came that strong thunderstorms were in the offing and doubts started to surface as to just how soon things might have to shut down for safety reasons. Over at the Pyramid stage, jazz bon vivant Johnny O'Neal would return to a hometown audience flanked by two youngsters who proved unusually adept at supporting their boss. Bassist Ben Rubens and drummer Itay Morchi helped O'Neal serve up a rich set of numbers that verified how lucky we are to have the pianist and singer back on the scene.

The Anita Baker number "Sweet Love" started the set with a perky shuffle that quickly contrasted with a lush ballad statement on Ellington's "It's Monday Everyday." With witty banter and strong vocal statements, O'Neal dazzled the crowd and often would pantomime block chords in the air when his solo reached a fever pitch. Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'" and the soul classic "People Make the World Go Round" were crowd pleasers for sure, but a bawdy rendition of "I'm Your Mailman" brought the house down and eventually led to an obligatory encore.

Always one to reinvent himself through the disparate projects that he leads, bassist Robert Hurst's latest ensemble takes on an electric guise and is aptly named Black Current Jam. Featuring Detroit's own Ian Finkelstein, a former student of Geri Allen's and a gifted pianist worthy of further attention, Hurst and the band kicked off with "Feed the Fire" in homage to Geri Allen. Later in the set, Finkelstein delivered a solo version of "Kid Charlemagne" in honor of Walter Becker who had just passed the day before. Hurst himself made a strong statement when he referred to the fact that most of the tunes in the set were in the key of F and as such were dedicated to Donald Trump.

After a brief tune from Russell Malone the festival was closed down in deference to a sizable storm heading towards Detroit. As folks gathered at Volt bar in the lobby of the Marriot Renaissance and awaited word when the show would go on, hopes were soon dashed when the rest of the schedule was called off making for a rather anticlimactic end of the festival. Nonetheless, you would be hard pressed to complain about the bountiful offerings that took place the rest of the weekend and of course there's always next year.

Photo Credit: C. Andrew Hovan

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