Sunday, March 5, 2017


Saturday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI the Jazz at Lincoln Center put on its twentieth-anniversary performance. Each year the JLC Orchestra makes it a plus to offer a 90 minute presentation that’s decidedly different than the previous year. Two years back, for example, the JLC Orchestra performed works from John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and Charles Mingus. Then the following year the orchestra deviated from its swing era and post-bop comfort zone, performing music from pop giants such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and a host of other pop greats. This time out, the orchestra celebrated 100 years of jazz music by presenting all original works from members of the orchestra. Each composition was influenced by a seminal era in jazz. The orchestra’s captain trumpeter Wynton Marsalis kicked down the barn door with an original titled “The Abyssinian Mass.”  For those in attendance that might have forgotten what an extraordinary jazz trumpeter Marsalis is, his solo I’m certain jogged their memories. Marsalis blew with such force those close enough to the stage could see spit dripping from the bell of his trumpet. Heck, it appeared as if Marsalis’ trumpet was sweating because of the workout he was putting it through. At the conclusion of the composition surely the audience was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt this was going to be a special night of music. Marsalis next called out the orchestra’s bassist Carlos Henriquez. The bassist led the orchestra up and down a soul-stirring original titled “Brooklyn Pyramid.” Before the orchestra sailed on Marsalis offered some heartfelt words for the University Music Society’s President Ken Fischer. Fischer will be retiring in June. Marsalis also offered kind remarks for jazz radio personality and WEMU’s music director Linda Yohn. She’s also retiring this year after 30 years of service to Michigan’s jazz community. After those acknowledgements, the JLC Orchestra got back to business. There was wonderful music from trumpeter Marcus Printup, saxophonist Ted Nash, and a terse drum solo titled “The Drums Also Waltzes” by Detroiter Ali Jackson that would have made the late jazz drummer Max Roach blush. The showstopper for me was Victor Goines original “Untamed Elegance.” Goines dedicated the number to the recently departed jazz promoter Detroiter Wesley “Skip” Norris. Goines played this number so beautifully the devil would have broken down. The JLC Orchestra performed many wonderful originals, but I still believe the orchestra is at its best playing music from Duke Ellington and the Count Basie songbooks and other swing era mavericks. It’s a welcomed change, however, when the JLC Orchestra deviates from its comfort zone.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant
The jazz pianist Aaron Diehl posed a scenario Sunday afternoon during his two-hour set at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. What would’ve occurred had Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin crossed paths. The musicians never met, and although each was accomplished and prolific, their musical styles were different as night and day. Diehl believes if the legends had met there would’ve been a mutual respect of each other’s virtuosity. That is the impression Diehl left during his flawless presentation titled “Jelly and George,” which featured the Grammy-winning chanteuse Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Adam Birnbaum assuming the role of George Gershwin. The concert was a mixing of Morton’s and Gershwin’s compositions. The interesting thing was Diehl opted to play obscure materials from Morton and Gershwin. Diehl was gracious enough to warn the audience that if they expected to hear Morton’s and Gershwin’s popular material the audience was going to be disappointed. The concert opened with Diel and Birnbaum trading on Gershwin’s “Prelude One” and “Jelly Roll’s Blues.” Diehl’s quartet clarinetist Evan Christopher, trombonist Corey Wilcox, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers joined in on “Mississippi Mildred.” Listening to Diel and Birnbaum reinterpreting Morton’s and Gershwin’s obscure material was worth the price of admission, but what took the two-hour set over the top was Cecile McLorin Salvant. In a short time, Salvant has built a solid reputation as a foremost interpreter of the great American Songbook. Salvant isn’t big on stagecraft, but who gives a rat’s ass because her voice is so unbelievably beautiful it gives your soul goose bumps. Guaranteed people will awake tomorrow still thinking about Salvant’s rendering of “Wining Boy” and “Ask me Again.”  Diehl’s lone moment in the sun came during his brilliant soloing on “Finger Breakers.” Diehl’s band was tight as banjo strings on “The Sidewalk Blues.” “Jelly and George” was prefect from top to bottom. Diehl and company present a lot of music, so an encore seemed overkill. The audience was so thoroughly worked up doubtfully they would’ve allowed the musicians to leave Ann Arbor had they refused an encore. As a gesture of appreciation for all the love the audience showed Diehl, he performed three additional tunes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Joe Lovano
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano launched the third concert of the Paradise Jazz Series, and drummer Brian Blade’s The Fellowship Band closed it. The two leaders shared a double bill Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in mid-town Detroit where the PJS is held. Both leaders are from divergent points of the jazz spectrum. Lovano is a post-bop heavy, and Blade is, somewhat of an experimentalist. Of the two, Lovano has logged the most frequent flier miles, having a colored career spanning four-plus decades, and also being one of the major faces of the famed Blue Note Records for 30 plus years. Lovano has made over 20 albums. As he’s proven throughout his career, and which was on full display Friday evening, he’s a saxophonist who plays every single note with a sense of purpose and beauty. There’s nothing pretentious about his playing. During his too-short set with his current working band, the Classic Jazz Quartet – pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Peter Slavov, and drummer Lamy Istrefi—Lovano treated the near-capacity audience to some of his original material, opening the set with “Fort Worth”. The quartet burned rubber on that number from the start to the conclusion. Then moved into a slower tempo gem titled “Our Daily Bread”.  There was some fist pumping soloing from Fields and Slavov. It was Lovano who captivated playing sweetly cadenzas at the end  of several tumes. The quart had the stage sufficiently preheated for Blade.

Blade, one of the greatest living jazz drummers, and a key member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet is no stranger to the PJS. He’s performed the series many times with Shorter, and Blade performed the opening 2016-2017 series as a member of the Chick Corea Trio. However, Friday evening was Blade’s first time at the series as a bandleader. It was a gamble booking Blade’s The Fellowship Band, which has a decidedly different approach to swinging. The core PJS demographic favors bop and post-bop. That’s what that core audience have been fed since the PJS launched. Blade is a magician, however, and the entire set he had the audience drooling. Blade performed with only one commercial break to introduce his bandmates saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, pianist Jon Cowherd, and bassist Chris Thomas. The band played a kind of modernist swing no jazz critic has categorized yet. Blade called tunes from The Fellowship’s discography. The tunes had a recognizable formula, starting at a slow molasses thick tempo, and then midway through the band started hauling ass. Blade chops power The Fellowship much like his chops power Shorter’s quartet. Blade is inarguably one of a kind. And the success of his all too short set Friday evening was a gamble proved worth taking. Pairing Lovano with Blade was a fitting contrast that worked.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris
When word spread January 26th via social mediaS that jazz titan, concert promoter Wesley “Skip” Norris was in a fatal car accident a collective sadness hit Detroit’s jazz community, and surely in other cities where jazz is a big part of the city’s cultural fabric. Although Skip epitomized what writer Ralph Ellison dubbed many decades ago a Renaissance man, a man of intellectual hunger, depth, and character Skip’s most recognizable and celebrated trait was his advocacy of jazz. In all the years as a jazz journalist and jazz blogger, I never met an individual more passionate and knowledgeable about jazz than Skip was. Over the years, I would see or hear Skip at many of the jazz concerts around Detroit and Ann Arbor. On many occasions, I wondered about that dapper man in the audience egging on the musicians, shouting out their names at the conclusion of an inspired solo. I became formal jazz friends with Skip after interviewing him about a new concert series he was putting on at the Northwest Activity Center called Jazz at the Center, which in its brief run had world-class jazz acts such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer/bandleader Ralph Peterson, and the all-star jazz ensemble the Cookers. From that time forward, I made sure I caught every concert Skip had a hand in producing, including the JD Allen, Joe Locke, and Joey Calderazzo hits at the Detroit Groove Society concert series. And whenever, I ran into Skip at a show in town I was always a recipient of one of his bear hugs. I was sincerely awed by Skip’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, and more so that he was personal friends with just about every jazz musician of note throughout the country. And he seemed to have a warehouse of stories. At Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Monday Skip’s family, friends, and many from Detroit’s jazz community participated in a home going service befitting a man who lived a truly exemplary and blessed life. Those who got a chance to share their experiences and recollections of Skip characterized him foremost as a man of unyielding faith. Everybody who wanted to speak about Skip wasn't afforded the opportunity. Had they we’d still be in the church listening. It was easy to take from the speakers that Skip was genuinely beloved. Ronald Robinson Lockett, one of Skip's dearest friends, jokingly said that God took Skip from us because God needed someone with Skip’s know how to promote jazz concerts in heaven. There was jazz music during the service at the appropriate moments from bassist Robert Hurst, saxophonist Victor Goines, and drummer/trumpeter Ralph Peterson. During the remarks section of the service, another of Skip’s closest friends Jacques Mullins noted during the service the greatest testament to a man is to see how many people come out for his home going. Hartford Memorial was filled with people who as another speaker pointed out loved them some Skip Norris.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Pianist Joey Calderazzo

The founder of the Detroit Groove Society house concerts series, Andrew Rothman, gifted the supporters of the series with 100 minutes of high echelon jazz music courtesy of the Joey Calderazzo Trio. Saturday night, the trio closed the DGS’s 2016 season. Ranked by some series regular's as the DGS’s best season yet. Veteran jazz promoter Skip Norris—who’s co-produced some of the DGS’s concerts—commented before introducing Calderazzo’s trio that Rothman has figured out a new way for lovers of jazz to experience live jazz. The DGS’s 2016 season had memorable concerts by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, vibist Joe Locke, and pianist Dan Tepfer. The Joey Calderazzo Trio presentation was the icing on a banner season. The tips of Claderazzo’s fingers were still smoking from his sets Friday night at the Jazz Café in Detroit. Claderazzo’s had to same bandmates bassist Ben Wolfe, and drummer Donald Edwards. The entire concert the trio went back and forth from unadulterated burners to heart melting tunes such as “Hope,” an original Calderazzo wrote for the late great saxophonist Michael Brecker. Calderazzo made his name in Brecker’s band.  Now Calderazzo is best known as the heart of the Branford Marsalis Quartet. And as a session leader, Calderazzo has put out 13 albums as a bandleader. Calderazzo is a very physical and sometimes animated jazz pianist as he showed tune after tune Saturday night. Calderazzo played every popular branch of jazz under the sun. The house was shaking when the trio played the first two tunes. I overheard the guy seated in front of me tell his companion he believed the curtains were going to catch fire during Calderazzo’s soloing on “Cheek to Cheek,” and “To Wisdom The Prize. There was the requisite twenty-minute intermission not to, it seemed, to give the musicians a break, but rather to give the house piano a breather. If there was one downside to an otherwise terrific concert it was Wolfe and Edwards also globally respected bandleaders didn't get an equal share of the spotlight. Calderazzo was on fire and Wolfe, and Edwards had their hands full.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Pianist  Kris Davis

The jazz pianist and composer Kris Davis is accustom to her style of playing being likened to avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. Although Davis, 35, appreciates the comparison, she says her biggest influences are pianists Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Davis grew up in Calgary, and at 13 she started playing jazz. Davis resides in New York now. Nationally, Davis has become a force of nature. Leading jazz publications such as DownBeat have praised Davis as the future of jazz, and many of her accomplished peers such as pianist Jason Moran are big fans.  To date, Davis has 12 albums available, ranging in scope from trio to large ensemble. Davis’s new album “Duopoly,” duets with talents such as Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, Bill Frisell, Billy Drummond and Angelica Sanchez could be seen as Davis’s most ambitious outing yet. The duets are remarkable, showing each musicians raw virtuosity, and offering further clarity into Davis’s subtle genius as a composer and a pianist. In early October, I Dig Jazz interviewed Davis via telephone two days after she returned to New York from touring Europe. Davis discussed the new album, balancing the responsibilities of motherhood with a growing music career, and getting more involved in the business side of her career by starting, Pyroclastic Records, her new record label.  
What was the impetus for making this duo album

In the past, I've focused on creating bands and developing a rapport, a vibe with the compositions that we're playing and between the musicians. I usually establish that through playing a few concerts and maybe a tour and then recording. I've put out almost ten records now, as a leader. I wanted to do something a little different where it was the opposite of that. We just sprinted into the studio and captured moments. It was an effort to try something a little different and experiment and take a different kind of risk.

You wrote in the liner notes the music on the recording wasn’t rehearsed.

What are the challenges you face with that approach?
I didn't bring in super hard music. If it was something that was hard to read or get together, that might not have been the best choice, for something like this. I tried to pick things that weren't super hard to read, and that fit the vibe of what I thought the other musicians would be comfortable with. Something like the “Prairie Eyes.”  That's a really old tune of mine, and I wanted to try it in a different format with Bill Frisell.

Some things were totally brand new, like the piece, with Julian Lage. That I hadn't played with anyone, so I was trying to figure out a way to play it, so there was a double task there. I'd never played with Julian either, so finding a way to play together and also how to shape the composition the way I wanted it to be. Some of the musicians had some comfort because I knew the tunes, like “Eronel,” with Billy Drummond. Some things were completely brand new, and it was a little more challenging to figure out how I should go about piecing them together.

Why did you pick Taborn, Lage, Drummond, Frisell, Gilmore, Byron, Berne, and Sanchez as collaborators?
I haven't recorded with any of these players. I do have a relationship with most of them where I played a couple of gigs with Billy Drummond. I did do a couple of gigs with Tim Berne, as a duo. I played in Don Byron's band a couple of times. I didn't completely pick someone that I was unsure if it would work or not. I had some sense that we'd find something pretty quickly, in the studio. That's how the project came about.

To put you on the spot, of the eight musicians who was your favorite?
Craig Taborn. We've never played together before. I'm a huge fan of his. In the recording, there was something special there that felt like, if we had more time, we could grow it even further. That's why we're touring together. That one, specifically, sticks out in my mind.

Are you and Craig's style of piano playing similar or dissimilar? If it's not similar, how do you make that work when you're doing a duo with another piano player and your styles are remote?
I think there's a shared sensibility of trying to be compositional when we're improvising. I think we share that basis. I don't think our styles are that different. We both have our influences. We're, obviously, different people. I think the harder challenge is trying to figure out how to make two pianos and two harmonic instruments work together in an improvised setting. That's the bigger challenge, I feel.

What's the key to making that work?
Having some composition, something to grab hold of. Something, where we're using some material or going in a specific direction that can help, shape the concert, the music that happens. Also, in the improvising, there's nothing planned. If it's completely open, just using our ears, trying to figure out what we're going for, range-wise. If someone is in the low register, are you trying to match that and create a specific sound with that? Maybe you should be in a different place on the keyboard, just to be out of that person's way, doing what they're doing, and create another texture or layer on top of what the other pianist is doing. It's intense behind what's going on and trying to give the other person space and also be in there, together, making decisions together. That's what I felt on the recording. Finding a push and pull with that.

Another challenge, too, it seems is making all that make sense for the audience.
Yeah, exactly. In some ways, I'm not so worried about that. I know that we can make good music together. I know that maybe some performances are better than others. I think the sincerity, and when you're trying, that comes across to an audience.

This project is also on your record label that you just started. Can you talk about why it was important for you to start a label?
I wanted to own my music. A lot of labels, they want to take a certain percentage of publishing and royalties. I've worked with a lot of different labels, and they're all great. They're all small labels, and they've been very supportive of me and my music. This project was funded by the Shift Foundation. It was paid for, and it felt like this was the time to try and release something and figure out, in 2016, how does music reach people? We don't have CD stores anymore, and everyone's downloading.

Do people buy CDs? How do people get the music? That's something that I've been removed from on purpose. I avoided that since I've been releasing things, just wanting to focus on the music. I felt like I wanted to be more connected. How does this reach my audience? Who is my audience? I wanted to learn more about that. That's what this is about.

Are you going to keep it just for your music, or are you planning to sign other jazz musicians?
I'm not sure yet. If I did release other people’s music, I'd want to be able to give them some support. I'm not really in a position to do that right now. You never know how things might change. Even for myself, I don't even know if I could release another album. If I did, I might just do a download and not print any CD's. I thought about doing that.

So far, Band Camp has been great. The proceeds are going to the artist. They take very little. I'm excited to see where that goes.

You have a lot on your plate. You record, you tour, you're a mom, and now you're building a record label. How do you make all that work? How do you manage, or balance, all of that?
It's a challenge, but I have people to help me. That makes a big difference. I have someone to run the label and keep track of everything and do the publicity. I have someone to book tours. I have some help. Otherwise, it would be impossible. Being a mom takes up a lot of my time. I'm pretty devoted to my son and being a mother. Even now, when I tour, I feel guilty and sad that I'm not with him. Sometimes I'm questioning, am I doing the right thing? I don't think I'll ever really know the answer. The nice thing is that when I am home and really with him, he gets my full attention, for the most part. He gets my attention more than most kids get to see their parents. That’s one nice thing about being a musician and working from home.

You've done large ensemble, trio, solo, and now duo projects. How do you make that transition from those different formats? Do you have a favorite format?
It's kind of a relief for me. I did this octet project in 2013. I was writing for six months for that project. I finished that and then it was like, I can write for duos, great. I'm so happy. So I'll do that for a while and then I'm so sick of duos. What's the next thing? It's like anything, you get involved in it, and then you're ready for a change. I'm happy for those shifts.

Do you consider your music avant-garde?
I don't think of it that way. To me, there're so many different kinds of music out there now. People are trying to push the envelope with things

Who’re some of your early influences?
My first early, early influences were Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. They were the two pianists that I absolutely fell in love with. That's what made me want to be a jazz piano player. I did a lot of transcribing of their music and studying. The thing I took away from that was Keith Jarrett's melodic sensibility and Herbie Hancock's sense of rhythm and time. Those made a big impact, and I still think they do.

A friend of mine came to a concert the other day, and he was like, I can tell you like Herbie Hancock. No one has ever said that to me before. I was a side person for someone else's gig. From my soloing and improvising, my friend caught onto something. Kind of cracked me up. People hear the cluster chords that I play, and they're like, you play like Cecil Taylor.
When I first heard you play, Cecil Taylor came to mind.
They just hear the clusters that I play. I love Cecil, but he's not the biggest influence on me, compared to some other pianists and composers.

You started out very young, playing classical piano. When did you switch to jazz? When did you know that you’d make your mark playing jazz?
It was pretty early, around thirteen. I joined the jazz band at school. I don't know why but after the first concert we played with the group, I was like, this is it. Jazz is what I want to do. This is awesome. That was the shift. I'd been playing classical music and playing by myself a lot, and I started realizing I could play music with other people and figuring that out was exciting. I kept going with that and got involved. There were some other students at the school that was also really into jazz. We'd get together every weekend in this guy’s basement and play standards and read tunes and listen to music together, as a group. They made a big impact on me.

Was there a jazz scene in Calgary at that time?
There was a good jazz scene there, at the time, and some people to study with. I'm not sure now, what's going on there. At the time, there were some really good musicians.

What do you have planned for your next project? Have you started thinking about that?
I'm looking to do a larger, orchestral project. That's in the back on my mind. I'm still composing music for an orchestra in Vancouver called, The Now Society. That's supposed to be premiered next fall. I have a year to work on it. They're improvisers, and I'm excited to try and write a song with some direction and shape for a large ensemble and figure out how I'm going to go about that.

You are constantly challenging yourself and pushing yourself to come up with different projects to do. I know we talked about it a little earlier, but it seems like that's big for you.
I think that's the spirit of jazz and improvised music. It's challenging yourself and trying different things and finding your way through the music. For me, it's exciting and fun to face those challenges and also learn from the mistakes. It's all from recording so many projects. Those things are there. They're all there, on the record. The successes and the failures. I look at it more as a documenting of that time and working towards the project.

That's my approach with it, versus trying to solidify that this is the one, it's got to be perfect. I try not to get too bogged down on that.
Are you saying that, when you go back to listen to an album after you've made it, that's when you analyze it or search for mistakes?

Yeah. I think when you're mixing and mastering the record, you're just listening to it so much. After you hear it the tenth, fifteenth time, you have a sense of what you're happy with and not happy with. That's the thing about this; it's all subjective. If there's something I don't like, it might actually be something that someone else likes. Going through the process of recording and playing music and then seeing their reactions. Sometimes I'm surprised because things that I thought were horrible, people loved and vice versa, things that I thought were great, people are like, okay. You don't want to be too precious about it. Do the work and try your best, experiment and push yourself. When the record is out, let the chips fall where they may. You really can't know how people are going to take it.

The Kris Davis Trio plays edgefest Friday October 28th  7:30pm at Kerrytown Concert House 415 North Fourth Avenue Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (734) 769-2999

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Steve Coleman

Oliver Ragsdale, the president of The Carr Center, an arts hub in downtown Detroit, stated Monday night that alto saxophonist Steve Coleman’s eleven-day residency is the longest for a jazz musician in the Carr Center’s history. Ragsdale was introducing Coleman to a near capacity audience eager to experience Coleman and his current band Five Elements. The residency is an ambitious endeavor for Coleman one of the most accomplished jazz modernist, having earned during his three decade plus career the MacArthur genius grant, Doris Duke Artist Award, and has recorded thirty-one jazz albums as a leader. Coleman will conduct a series of workshops, outreach music educational events, a jam session, and a second full-length concert with his quintet. Coleman, 60, is a native of Chicago. Stylistically he has one foot planted in bop and the other in free jazz. Monday night Coleman showed he possesses more raw stamina than the average red-blooded American jazz alto saxophonist.
At this middle-age leg of his career, Coleman’s boyhood hero’s fellow Chicagoans saxophonists Von Freeman and Bunky Green influences are still present in Coleman’s blood. Coleman started his two-week run at the Carr with a marathon set of jazz that straddled the fence of avant-garde jazz with his Five Elements band trumpeter Johnathan Finlayson,  drummer Sean Rickman, guitarist Miles Okazaki and bassist Anthony Tidd. Finlayson and Rickman are the linchpins. Neither has a drop of inhibition in their blood.
The band opened with a five-alarm barn burning tune, clocking in just under fifteen minutes. On it, Finlayson establishes his worth immediately with a lengthy and purposeful solo. He’s right at home in the middle register of the trumpet.  On the following selection, Coleman slowed things down, proving his band isn’t all piss and vinegar.
The band played the slow jam with a puppy-love sort of innocence you’d thing such a powerful jazz band would have little interest in. Immediately, after the slow jam concluded, the quintet dove into the deep in end of their set-list, not bothering to resurface for air until the concert ended. Coleman never addressed the audience or offered the titles of the songs the band performed.
The band was too busy swinging and taking the audience to never before experienced improvisational heights. Coleman didn’t talk to the audience until the end of the concert finally introducing his band-mates. No one cared that Coleman didn’t converse with the audience. The music was hot, colorful, and breathtakingly original.
The band performed for two straight hours, and neither member, as far as I could discern, broke a sweat. Coleman is the kind of creative force and leader who demands much from his band, and they made rising to his expectations look effortless.