Wednesday, June 5, 2019

NEW MUSIC FROM DETROIT TENORS, BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET & RALPH PETERSON & THE MESSENGER LEGACY


Saxophonists Steve Woods and Carl Cafagna have been mainstays on Detroit’s jazz scene for decades. Cafagna made a bulletproof reputation for himself as a key member of the wildly popular gypsy jazz group the Hot Club of Detroit, and Woods crafted a sound on tenor that calls to mind the era of bop greats Dexter Gordon, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Coleman Hawkins. About a decade back, Woods and Cafagna formed the duo known as the Detroit Tenors and have performed off and on since. The duo’s growing fanbase wondered when they’d record an album. Last month, the duo released the self-titled “Detroit Tenors” on the Detroit Music Factory label. Finally, a document exists of what a terrific team Woods and Cafagna are. They put their signature touches on 12 beloved standards. The recording is fire from top to bottom, embodying the fervor created decades ago on landmark recordings by tenor duos such as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin and in recent times Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring. The cut on “Detroit Tenors” likely to get played repeatedly is the duo’s rendering of “Blues Up and Down”.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet has been together for over 20 years with only one recent personnel change. The hiring of the outstanding drummer Jason Faulkner who replaced the quartet’s longtime drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Watts was a driving force no doubt, but the quartet never lost any of its muscle when Watts split. Evidence of that is two outstanding albums the quartet made “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” and “The Secret Between the Shadow And The Soul. “The latter recently out nationwide on Marsalis Music/ OKeh. I concur with those who proclaim “The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul” to be the quartet’s best album to date. The album straddles the fence of free jazz. It’s public knowledge the quartet can go both ways. Anyway, there are only seven tracks here. Save for “Snake Hip Waltz,” composed by pianist Andrew Hill, and “The Windup” by Keith Jarrett, the other cuts are originals by members of the quartet. Each cut could be regarded as the standout. And from start to the album’s conclusion the quartet is in lockstep. Amazing how Marsalis, Revis, Faulkner and Calderazzo can read each other’s thoughts. Reckon that’s the result of 20-plus years of swinging together.

Jazz drummer Ralph Peterson is a former Jazz Messenger, the musical institution co-founded by the legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey, and which over the years produced many of the jazz world’s leading bandleaders and soloists. Peterson perhaps more than any ex-member has continued Blakey’s legacy through his playing – true after all these years Peterson still sounds at times like Blakey did during his prime – and his past mentoring of current jazz stars such as trumpeter Sean Jones and saxophonist Tia Fuller, both respected and accomplished bandleaders. The past two months Peterson has been touring the states with ex-Messengers, Bobby Watkins, Geoff Keezer, Brian Lynch, Billy Pierce, and Essiet Essiet, promoting the new live double-disk album “Legacy Alive Vol. 6 at the Side Door.” There’s not much you can comment about this all-star band that has already been documented. So far “Legacy Alive” is the best album I have spent time with. It seems as if Blakey’s ghost was present for every tune chosen for this terrific tribute to the institution Blakey hand-built brick by brick. Warning this recording is so hard-driving it may damage the listener’s eardrums. The finesse and fire that each member developed while in Blakey’s employ remains in tow.

Monday, June 3, 2019

PARADISE JAZZ SERIES WRAPS UP SEASON WITH TERENCE BLANCHARD WSG QUIANA LYNELL & LEDISI PERFORMING SCORES FROM SPIKE LEE'S FILMS

Terence Blanchard

Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall in midtown Detroit the Paradise Jazz Series wrapped up its 2018-2019 jazz season with, in my estimation, the best concert in recent memory. The concert best described as a two-hour extravaganza captained by Grammy-winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard, featuring music Blanchard scored for Spike Lee’s films “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X,” “Clockers” “25th Hour, “Miracle at St. Anna,” “When the Levees Broke,” and “BlacKKKlansman.  Blanchard was backed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Damon Gupton and Blanchard's group the E-Collective with special guest vocalists Quiana Lynell and Ledisi. The concert started with two cuts from “Jungle Fever” “Make Sure You’re Sure, "which featured Lynell, and “These Three Words,” which featured Ledisi. Her version would have given its author Stevie Wonder goosebumps. Inarguably, Lynell and Ledisi who is more of a household name in neo-soul and R&B circles were the showstoppers the first half of the concert. Ledisi possesses the kind of vocal range that would fit comfortably in any genre she desires to undertake. And Lynell from the initial note she belted Sunday afternoon proved she was born to sing jazz. Don’t be surprised if decades from now she’s discussed with the same reverence greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn are talked about. Takes a lot of talent to win over Detroit’s discriminating jazz fans. Lynell had the goods. There was plenty of awe-inspired moments attendees won’t forget anytime soon. The vocalists garnered the most ovations. In fact, I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the total ovations. The vocalists singing was so touching and stirring it would’ve made the toughest critics weep. Lynell is a newcomer to the jazz fans who frequent the Paradise Jazz Series, but she won them over with an angelic voice the covered you like a warm sweater. The first have of the concert was dominated by Lynell and Ledisi, and the concert could have ended there with the audience confident they received their money’s worth. The second half of the concert, however, the emphasis was on Blanchard and the DSO. The most breathtaking moments were them pouring their souls into “Levees,” “Funeral Dirge,” and “Dear Mom” music from Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke.” I’ll bet a week’s salary there wasn’t a dry eye in the building at the completion of those compositions. And Blanchard offered the finest trumpeting I ever experienced from him in the many years I’ve been a fan of his work, and the numerous times he’s performed in Detroit.  He seemed to have channeled the spirit and pain of every individual affected by Hurricane Katrina. This was a meticulously executed performance that on the surface seemed overblown with the inclusion of a symphony orchestra and Blanchard’s group, but all the parts snapped together nicely with Blanchard captaining the ship. What a terrific way to end a stellar season of jazz music.

Friday, May 31, 2019

RISING JAZZ STAR TRUNINO LOWE'S QUARTET PLAYS STANDARDS & ORIGINALS AT CLIFF BELL'S


Trumpeter Trunino Lowe
The jazz trumpeter Trunino Lowe is a rising star on Detroit’s jazz scene, having performed at many popular jazz clubs in Detroit and neighboring cities. A few weeks ago, he played the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in suburban Detroit, and in early June he’s booked for a weekend run at the Blue Llama, the hot new jazz venue in Ann Arbor. To date, he’s the youngest jazz musician to work the Dirty Dog where many of the country’s top jazz musicians have held court. Word spread on social media his shows at the Dirty Dog were breathtaking. He's a talented musician who plays the standards with dexterity and amazing proficiency. He proved that much Wednesday night at his concert at Cliff Bell’s in downtown Detroit, performing with his quartet pianist LeRoy Micken, drummer Louis M. Jones, bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton, and special guest vocalist London Paul. The quartet opened the first set with three standards and closed with two originals. One original composed by Jones and the other by Lowe. The band sounded best on the standards, which Lowe added some polish to, making the oldies appear freshly minted. The originals “Peek-a-boo,” and “Teenage Rage” were less appealing with the former being hard to follow, giving the impression the quartet didn’t rehearse the tune. Vocalist London Paul was a welcomed addition. Paul is a promising young vocalist, and jazz fans should keep an eye on her. She’ll surely get better with age and when she figures out the appropriate songs for her voice and surrounds herself with an experienced rhythm section that’ll push her to heights she never imagined achieving. Jones isn’t a complete drummer or a tasteful one yet. Listening to him soloing, I detected traces of that hey-mom-look-at-me mentality too many young jazz drummers are cursed with.  I wondered if his chops would be better served in a funk band. And Micken lacked fire. Lowe, however, blew with passion and vigor but seemed unconcerned with professionalism. It pains me to say, he didn’t look as sharp as he sounded. It’s worth noting he’s part of a generation of jazz musicians not particular about their onstage appearance. A generation way too comfortable performing in jeans and sneakers. The veteran jazz musicians who’re training these youngsters haven’t instilled the importance of being well-dressed, and it’s sinful to stand before a paying audience sloppily dressed. The great star maker Art Blakey used to tell the members in his ensemble, according to former Messenger drummer Ralph Peterson, the first thing an audience sees before you play one note of music is how you look. They make assumptions about how the music will sound based on that initial impression. To me, that observation makes all the sense in the world. How many times did you see the Jazz Messengers walked on stage sharp as shit and you knew the music was going to be fire? On a YouTube video, the legendary bassist Ron Carter commented he informs students at the beginning of the semester he won’t allow them to perform with him without a dark suit, a crisp white shirt, and a necktie. Jazz musicians have historically been sartorial trendsetters. Frankly, it’s criminal the current generation isn’t hip to that. Honestly, I’m surprised jazz club owners haven’t mandated performers dress professionally. My fingers are crossed; however, as Lowe improves  so will his professionalism. For now, he has a promising future in the music, and he deserves support.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

JASON MARSALIS RETURNS TO THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFE WITH NEW QUARTET, BGQ EXPLORATION


Jason Marsalis
The jazz vibist and drummer Jason Marsalis has a new touring band called the BGQ Exploration, supposedly a modernized version of Benny Goodman’s 1930 quartet with Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton. Friday and Saturday evening Marsalis’ test drove the quartet at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe not necessarily playing Goodman’s original music but instead tunes his quartet performed regularly. The other music Marsalis featured was from Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington, Herlin Riley, and several of Marsalis’s original tunes. He's foremost a jazz drummer, a damn good one. He’s also a fantastic vibe player, and during a few of his solos Saturday evening his mallet work reminded me of Detroiter Milt Jackson. For what it’s worth the BGQ Exploration is a competent quartet its members being drummer Gerald Watkins, clarinetist Joe Goldberg, and pianist Kris Tokarski, but the group hasn’t completely gelled yet. Of the concerts I have caught at the Dirty Dog, Marsalis’s was, it pains me to say, the most forgettable. There’s nothing wrong with presenting a set of standards, but what is the point of stripping them down to the would surface than reapplying the same old color. That’s what Marsalis is guilty of doing with such oldies as “I Got Rhythm,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it ain’t Got That Swing,” and “I’m Confessing.” Saturday evening was the first time at the Dirty Dog I saw a good percentage of the audience disinterested in the music before them. They weren’t talking endlessly while the quartet worked, but they were nonresponsive after most of the soloing. The concert wasn’t a total bust. There were moments where the BGQ displayed spunk like on “Harlem Shuffle, and “So Rare,” but those moments were few and far between. It was the kind of uninspired concert you’d likely forget about driving home from it, and wouldn’t take to Facebook to boast about. Midway through the set, I felt I made a mistake skipping the final jazz concert of the Carr Center’s season to catch Marsalis’s new band.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

TRUMPETER NICHOLAS PAYTON'S FIRST APPEARANCE AT THE BLUE LLAMA JAZZ CLUB WAS DISAPPOINTING


Nicholas Payton
Of the great jazz trumpeters from New Orleans, Nicholas Payton is my favorite. For years, the eight terrific albums he made on Verve Records were constants on my playlist. I’ve watched Payton change over the years. Years ago, he eschewed the word jazz and resented anyone who called him a jazz musician. He rebranded jazz Black American Music (BAM), and he started making more fusion-derived recordings such as “Sonic Trance,” “Numbers,” and his most recent date “Afro-Cuban Mixtape.” Gone, unfortunately, was the Nicholas Payton of old who made gems such as “Payton’s Place,” “Nick @Night,” and “Dear Louis.” Over the weekend, Payton’s trio -- bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Marcus Gilmore -- made its first appearance at the Blue Llama, a new jazz club in Ann Arbor Michigan. The club opened last month to glowing reviews. It’s an excellent place for live jazz. Friday evening the capacity crowd experienced Payton as a pianist and a vocalist. He played music from his current catalogue, including three movements from a newly composed suite. I enjoyed some of the concert but was disappointed overall. He spent most of it moving from the Fender Rhodes to the piano, and he closed the concert singing. It pains me to say he’s neither a good pianist nor singer. It appeared he’d just learned to play the piano and he was anxious to play it for whomever willing to listen. I was shocked he spent so much time not doing what he was put on earth for. That's playing the shit out the trumpet. When he did play it, his blowing was majestic. He’s still a brilliant trumpeter, and he could’ve blown the paint off the ceiling if he wanted to. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to attend the concert. I prayed he’d channel his former self and play a few cuts from his Verve recordings. That never happened. Save for some goosebumps-inducing solos from Hurst and Gilmore the concert was a letdown.

Monday, May 6, 2019

THREE JAZZ BASSISTS PAY TRIBUTE TO DETROIT LEGENDS PAUL CHAMBERS, RON CARTER & JAMES JAMERSON AT THE CARR CENTER


Paul Chambers
This concert celebrating the legendary Detroit bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and James Jamerson was the brainchild of the jazz drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, co-artistic director of the Carr Center. The two-hour concert was the last of the CC’s jazz season that will be held at the Detroit School for the Performing Arts. What a marvelous way to wrap up a terrific jazz concert season. To pay homage to the legendary musicians, Carrington assembled three of jazz’s most accomplished jazz bassists Detroiters Ralphe Armstrong and Robert Hurst, and John Patitucci. For added measures, the rhythm section was Carrington, pianist Ian Finkelstein, and guitarist Mark Whitfield, and the special guests were vocalists, Niki Harris, and Treaty Womack. The concert opened with Carrington calling the bassists to the stage one at a time to perform specific tunes composed by or linked to the musicians being honored. What made this concert feel authentic was each bassist shared recollections of their encounters and associations with the honorees. Hurst and Armstrong talked about studying and stealing musical techniques from Ron Carter, and Patitucci talked about having his mind blown during the formative stage of his career by James Jamerson.  Armstrong had more colorful stories, and he offered throughout the concert some comic relief. Aside from the musicians' recollections, the music for lack of a more colorful expression was smoking. The showstoppers happened when Armstrong, Hurst, and Patitucci were on stage together, and when Armstrong mimicked Jamerson’s style of playing. Other memorable moments occurred the second half of the show, which Carrington seemed to have designed for Jamerson.  Vocalists Niki Harris and Treaty Womack joined the fun singing Motown classics Jamerson helped to immortalize. The concert was the sort of authentic tribute to three Detroit greats that attendees will be thinking about for years to come. And the kind of outside the box programming Carrington has blessed the Carr Center with since signing on as co-artistic director.

THE SPRING QUARTET PUT ON THE BEST CONCERT OF 2018-2019 PARADISE CONCERT SERIES


Spring Quartet
It’s the latest jazz all-star group, and it’s called the Spring Quartet. Pianist Leonardo Genovese, bassist Esperanza Spalding, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and drummer Jack DeJohnette are the members. Friday night, at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall the quartet put on the best concert so far of the 2018-2019 Paradise Jazz Series. What was immediately delightful was the quartet only performed original tunes. There’re too many highpoints during the two-hour concert to list. The concert was broken into two sets. The first set, the emphasis was on Genovese the lesser known of the members but who shouldered the bulk of the workload both sets, and the multi-Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding. Genovese is an energetic pianist with traces of Ahmad Jamal’s and Cecil Taylor’s musical DNA running through his bloodstream. On the numbers which he was featured “Herbie Hands Cocked,”  “Spring Day,” and “Ethiopian Blues,” Genovese had a Simon Says command of the piano. Wonder if this group would be worth checking out if he wasn’t a member. On a different note, this concert was the first time I witnessed Spalding play like a pure jazz bassist. In fairness to her, the other times I caught her she was the leader, performing her original tunes. Spalding crushed all my earlier reservations about her being a bonafide jazz musician. She is the real deal, and it was a delight listening to her craft one delicious solo after the next. The quartet was balanced. The first set served as a warmup for the second where the quartet stretched out on several of DeJohnette’s tunes such as “Ahmad the Terrible,” and “One for Eric.” Genovese and Spalding were the standouts the first set and Lovano was consistently brilliant the entire night. DeJohnette, however, was the most breathtaking soloist when the zoom lens was cast on him.  As far back as memory serves, DeJohnette has been an exhilarating and tasteful drummer, perhaps the most tasteful in jazz. Every lick and rim shot during the concert was spot on and meaningful. The capacity audience was so lit they gave a well-deserved lengthy ovation after the concert, demanding an encore, giving the impression had the quartet refused the audience would’ve burned Orchestra Hall down. That’s the impact the quartet had.