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Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Although his choice to make Columbus, Ohio home base makes Monaco a talent just under the radar for many, make no mistake in putting his name on the list of modern day organ masters. In a trio with guitarist Fareed Haque and drummer Makaya McCraven, Monaco purveyed the history of the instrument from downhome blues to gospel strains straight from the pulpit. Not afraid to literally pull out all the stops, the organist picked the best combination of tonal colors to suit each piece. Of the many highlights, a run through Jimmy Smith's "Root Down" was particularly choice, including a Haque solo that bordered on the microtonal at times.

All bets were off on Sunday when I came to running a game plan that would avoid the pitfalls of missing one or more favorites. One couldn't miss though in starting off the day with a tribute to Detroit's own Pepper Adams. With a front line of three baritone saxophones including Gary Smulyan, Howard Johnson, and Frank Basile, the ante was upped even further by utilizing a rhythm section consisting of Michael Weiss, Ray Drummond, and Joe Farnsworth. Tunes such as "Binary," "Chant," and "Witches Pit" served as great vehicles for the horns. Plus, a lovely ballad medley included the Ellington numbers "Lotus Blossom," Chelsea Bridge," and "Sophisticated Lady."



Although the critical accolades have been plentiful, Bill Frisell's exploration of the music of John Lennon in Detroit was only a modest success. The mood was too psychedelic and generally slow-paced for anything much to catch with listeners. The twang of violin and pedal steel guitar seemed also somewhat of a rare delicacy, heard best in smaller doses. The jury also seemed to be out on Gregory Porter the much lauded new vocalist who could be found along with his band at the Main Stage. While Porter has great chops and wonderful stage presence, his original material is somewhat uneven save for the catchy "1960 What?" which recalls Gil-Scott Heron in his heydays. Arguably, it can be suggested that while Porter surrounds himself with a talented cast of musicians, their contributions were solely workmen-like in character.

Formed back in 1977, the band Yellowjackets has consistently straddled the lines between pop fusion and more jazz-based sensibilities. With the recent departure of Jimmy Haslip, the only original member to remain is keyboard man Russell Ferrante. The band was in fine form at the Main Stage Sunday evening with all eyes on Felix Pastorius who has filled the chair vacated by Haslip. The son of Jaco Pastorius, this newest member of the ensemble refreshingly has developed his own bass voice apart from his father. Favorites of the set included "Claire's Song" and the traditional swing of "Song for Elvin."

Back at the Amphitheater, the crowd was anxious for the homecoming of Detroit's own Sheila Jordan. The 84-year-old singer was to be matched with a string section and the piano trio of Alan Broadbent. As she made her way to the microphone, Jordan spoke with an ageless sense of enthusiasm and her vocals remained ever poignant. Opening with "Haunted Heart," Jordan took the audience through a set replete with nostalgia and genuine magic. By contrast, the night was finishing up over at Campus Martius with the loop-based grooves of John Scofield and his Uberjam band featuring Andy Hess, Avi Bortnick, and Tony Mason. While the emphasis was on samples and beats of the funk variety, Scofield dipped into his bag of blues and other tricks as he ripped off one hot solo after another.



By Monday, a sense of overstimulation seemed to be settling in, but this was quickly dispelled as pianist Aaron Diehl took the stage at the Pyramid with his group featuring Warren Wolf on vibes and Rodney Green on drums. Performing much of the material from his debut release, The Bespoke Man's Narrative, Diehl locked in with his section mates for a riveting recital that was one of the best the festival had to offer. Especially fine was the pianist's clever arrangement of "Moonlight in Vermont," with Wolf unleashing a masterful solo filled with daring runs, quarter note triplets, and high wire risks that paid off with big dividends.

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