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Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

Steve Bryant By

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Detroit Jazz Festival
Detroit, MI
August 30-September 2, 2013
You have read the news and heard the stories on radio and TV. Detroit is bankrupt and going into ruin. However, Gretchen Valade definitely doesn't appear to believe the hype, as she managed to fashion the Detroit Jazz Festival (DJF) into one of the largest, most star-studded musical parties in North America, with four stages scattered all over downtown Detroit over the Labor Day weekend.

In 2012, newly-appointed artistic director Chris Collins kicked off his rookie year with an extravaganza which featured the likes of Sonny Rollins, Wynton Marsalis, and Wayne Shorter. There was bound to be a letdown for the 2013 edition of DJF, however director Collins made a decision to feature the great musicians who comprise the Detroit jazz community, as well as to honor some well-known and not-so-well-known masters of the music. This year's artist in residence was the great Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, who not only kicked off the festival but was featured in a variety of settings. Collins also brought in some other star power, which included McCoy Tyner backing up dancer Savion Glover, Ahmad Jamal, and Joshua Redman. In addition, the fest featured works by the late great Dave Brubeck performed in part by the Brubeck Brothers.

Danilo Perez started things off with a performance by his new ensemble Panama 500, which included violinist Alex Hargreaves, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Adam Cruz, and probably the first ever Detroit appearance by master Afro-Cuban drummerRoman Diaz. The music played by Perez and company paid homage to the discovery of Panama during the 1500s, and was quite reminiscent of the music on his debut LP, The Journey. Perez experimented with different variations on the clave, as well as an impressionistic piano style. It took a little while for the group to warm up, but once the group kicked into gear, the music was transcendent.

The highlight of this set was a fiery performance of "Colombia," which featured a jaw-dropping alto solo by Patricia Zarate, with fiery drumming by Diaz. Tenor saxophonist David Murray and his Big Band followed with performances of his recent CD Be My Monster Love (Motema Music, 2013), which featured Macy Gray. Murray's music followed in the footsteps of his mentor, the late great Butch Morris, with driving charts and expansive horn breaks. Surprisingly, Gray's unorthodox style fit in with Murray's charts. Unfortunately, the set got rained out just as they were kicking into gear.

Saturday's program had the more creative sets featured at the Chase Main Stage instead of the tradition Hart Plaza Amphitheater. The day jumped off with a heartfelt tribute to the late, great Detroit bandleader Teddy Harris, whose New Breed Bebop Society was the training ground for many of Detroit's young players, a lot of whom are not internationally known. The more notable soloists were saxophonist James Carter, baritone player Al Harding, trumpeter Rayse Biggs, and the great bassist Ralphe Armstrong. Even though the group could rehearse only once, Director Al McKenzie was able to harness the energy and turned it into a crowd-pleasing set. Altoist Vincent York showed his acumen with a rousing solo on Harris' "Stella," while Carter let loose with a fiery soprano turn on "My Shining Hour."

The Bebop Society was followed with a set by bassist Robert Hurst III, who besides being one of the best bottom men on the scene, now teaches at the University of Michigan. Hurst had a group of young cats with him, which was distinguished by up-and-coming tenor man Rafael Statin, and Cuban percussionist Pepe Espinosa. Hurst led his group through a swinging set of tunes from his new CD, Bob: A Palindrome (Bebob, 2013). Watch out for Statin, he is a comer.

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