Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Branford Marsalis Quartet
Over the years, the Branford Marsalis Quartet has put on some terrific concerts at the Paradise Jazz Series. One example, is the 2017 concert with jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, featuring music from the album “Upward Spiral.” The performance hit musically on every conceivable level, and you left that concert feeling a  spiritual awakening. Some of the music at the quartet's Friday night opening performance for the 2019-2020 Paradise Jazz Series was too way out. The quartet performed a few well-known standards and cuts from their recent album “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul,” starting the concert with the “Dance of the Evil Toys, ” one of several esoteric compositions from bassist Eric Revis. Marsalis joked while introducing one of Revis' tunes that it's the kind of music you play when you don't want to get paid. Many times the quartet switched from  slower tempo numbers to the way out, making it seem as if  you were experiencing two different concerts. On those way out numbers, pianist Joey Calderazzo, and drummer Justin Faulkner whaled on their instruments like mad-men, which seemed to unnerve some of the audience. The concert had two noteworthy moments. The quartet’s bluesy treatment of the oldie “Sunny Side of the Street,” and the mini-reunion of Marsalis’s former bandmates Jeff “Tain Watts,” Robert Hurst, and Terence Blanchard on a hip take of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning.”  

Monday, August 19, 2019


Mike Malis
Detroit’s jazz community is known the world over for producing many great jazz pianists such as Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan. To this very day, Detroit continues to make sensational jazz pianists. One such sensation is Mike Malis, a graduate of the University of Michigan and a former pupil of the late pianist Geri Allen. Of the current pool of young jazz pianists on Detroit’s scene, Malis has proven to be one of the most daring, willing to go musically where his peers are reluctant to or don’t have the chops yet to go. Malis’s daring was on full display Friday evening at the Motor City Wine Bar where his quartet performed challenging compositions by Don Cherry, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen, and Wayne Shorter, mixed with some of Malis’s originals fresh from the oven. Malis’s band was comprised of some skilled swingers in trumpeter Kris Johnson, bassist Josef Deas, and drummer Jonathan Taylor. The quartet opened with an updated and extended take on Don Cherry’s “Guinea,” followed by Geri Allen’s “Dolphy’s Dance,” a complicated piece of music Malis admitted he’s been trying to master for years. The audience’s enthusiastic response after the quartet completed the number was a sign Malis with the help of his band has finally nailed Allen’s composition. Malis is a thoughtful young musician who hasn’t been around long, but who has already built quite a name for himself with two terrific recordings on the market “lifted from the no of all nothing,” and “Balance.”  Then there’s his growing body of work as a sideman. Aside from his willingness to tackle complicated material by jazz greats, Malis is equally adept at every branch of jazz bop, swing, the blues, and the avant-garde, which his chops seem to be most suited. Plus, he has a knack for de-complicating compositions so the layman can relate to and enjoy. That trait was immediately recognizable also in the band as a whole. Musically, they were more than capable of going in whatever direction Malis pointed them. The quartet doesn’t hit together often, which is surprising given how totally in sync they were. You wouldn’t have been wrong to estimate the band has been playing together for years. Then again, each member is accomplished. Johnson has been on the road for years now with the Count Basie Orchestra. Deas was a vital force in one of Detroit’s all-time great jazz ensembles Urban Transport, and for years has been a Godsend in every band that’s employed him. He isn’t a constant presence on the scene currently like he was when Urban Transport was hot, but given how wonderful he sounded Friday evening on solo after solo he’s been somewhere invested in some woodshedding. His bass walking has grown exponentially. Taylor is new to my ears, but I loved what I heard, a mature and tasteful drummer not interested one bit in wrangling the spotlight. It was refreshing hearing a jazz band run by a young musician confident enough to treat an audience to a night of rarely performed compositions from jazz greats and his own catchy originals.

Friday, August 9, 2019


Kasan Belgrave

Of the current pool of young and talented jazz musicians making waves on the Detroit jazz scene, the alto saxophonist Kasan Belgrave is possibly the most scrutinized because his father is the late legendary trumpeter and jazz educator Marcus Belgrave. Being the heir of such an internationally revered force could be daunting. However, if the young Belgrave is feeling the heat of his father’s legend or obligated to surpass his father’s accomplishments, it didn’t show Thursday evening at Cobb’s Corner Bar & Restaurant where Belgrave has a weekly residency. Belgrave, a respectful, smart and good looking young man, is comfortable captaining his band, a skin tight-knit trio with bassist Mike Palazzollo and guitarist Jacob Schwandt. Belgrave is graduating soon from the University of Michigan where he studied with saxophonist Andrew Bishop. A few songs into the opening set it was obvious Belgrave is a serious and adept student of jazz who’s tapped into the history of the alto saxophone. Listening to him perform some standards such as “I Remember April,” and “Nobody But You,” proved he’s spent many man-hours picking apart the mechanics of alto players Sonny Red, Lee Konitz, Larry Smith and Sonny Criss. Belgrave doesn’t showboat or play unnecessarily long solos. For a young player still maturing he possesses a polished sound. When his trio performed the standards, he made certain they didn’t stray from the original structure and overall intent of the compositions. It’s worth pointing out he performed in a challenging situation not having a pianist or a drummer in the mix. So, he was exposed for all to bear witness. But his playing was devoid of kinks or imperfections. I chatted with Belgrave after the opening set about his father’s influence. He said his dad encouraged him to explore whatever music the young Belgrave fancied. He doesn’t harp on exceeding his father’s accomplishments. Listening to him talk and perform leaves the impression he’s confidently fixed on making his own name note by note. I doubt if the Cob Corner residency pays much. Nonetheless, it’s a good training ground for Belgrave. Unfortunately, only a handful of people attended his show. The next challenge for him is making a bigger effort to promote the residency. He deserves to be heard.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Jazz Bassist Miles Brown

For eight years, the jazz bassist Miles Brown ran the jazz studies program at Oakland University. During that stretch he also became a key figure on Detroit’s jazz scene, performing with heavies such as Sean Dobbin, Scott Gwinnell, and Mike Jellick. Brown moved to Baltimore, but before the move, he gifted the scene with a wonderful jazz album out last month on the Detroit Music Factory label titled “Evidence of Soul and Body,” which since its debut has been on rotation on jazz stations nationwide. Over the weekend, Brown officially celebrated the release of the album with a four-night residency at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café. People hip to the album was able to experience the music – a mix of familiar standards and originals from Miles’s pen and his dad’s guitarist Steve Brown – live. The set Saturday evening and the recording have very similar feels. I left the concert believing I’d made a smart choice investing a piece of my life listening to an hour- plus of prime choice jazz. I felt the same after hearing to the album for the first time. Brown is a pristine bassist. When he plays the bass, he doesn’t just lean it against his shoulder and pluck away at the strings. He literally dances with the bass as if it’s a prom date. For the project, he assembled equally gifted jazz musicians such as pianist Scott Gwinnell, drummer Sean Dobbins, saxophonist Andrew Bishop, and guitarist Steve Brown. The concert opened with the senior Brown’s “Two Birds One Stone,” a modernized twist on the standard “Bye Bye Black Bird”. Brown simply infused the standard with a hipper melody. It was a strong start to a concert that never lost any momentum. Brown didn’t perform every cut on the album just the ones that gave the album its charisma “Three and One,” ”Blues for Joaquin,” ‘Like Dave,” and the closer “Sonny’s Hustle”. Every performance was a highpoint or a mini-concert in itself. Brown’s dad Steve served up a handful of memorable solos and his old-school elegance was the linchpin. Dobbins was colorful as always with semi-automatic like rim shots, and Bishop displayed throughout the concert world-class tenor play, the kind of cheek and bone blowing that required years to perfect and that’s hard to come by these days. The four-night celebration was a fitting way to formally introduce a bonafide jazz album to the public.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


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


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


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.