Thursday, May 18, 2017

STELLAR PERFORMANCE FROM RISING STAR BENNY RUBIN JR


Benny Rubin Jr
Some loyal supporters of Detroit jazz came out Wednesday evening to Bert’s in the Eastern Market to hear a rising star. His name is Benny Rubin Jr. He’s an alto saxophonist, and a senior at the Detroit School of the Arts. For two sets he played with a wealth of depth and maturity well beyond his years. Of late, Rubin Jr has been making a name for himself. Many heavies on Detroit’s jazz scene have spread the word on what a serious musician Rubin Jr is. You can hear history in his playing, and as he grows in the coming years, Rubin Jr will surely be compared to great alto saxophonists like Jesse Davis and Frank Strozier. Wednesday was the first time Rubin Jr’s quartet – guitarist Jacob Schwandt, drummer Brandon Williams, and bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton -- played the weekly jazz series at Bert’s run by veteran jazz concert promoter Bill Foster and photographer and jazz aficionado Karen Fox. The series books a mix of known jazz musicians such as saxophonist JD Allen and up-and-comers like Rubin Jr and drummer Tariq Gardner.  The cover is ten bucks for two sets. Rubin Jr was professional at every level. The first set started promptly at 7:00 pm as advertised, and the band was  well rehearsed. During the sets, the band stretched out on well-loved standards such as “Bolivia,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Take the A Train.” and some of Rubin Jr.’s originals. Rubin held the crowd’s attention throughout both sets. I would be remiss if I ignored a disappointing moment of an otherwise wonderful evening of music. Detroit’s own James Carter showed up, and Rubin Jr gracefully and respectfully asked the acclaimed saxophonist to set in for the final tune of the closing set. Carter refused. Obviously, Carter is a musician Rubin Jr idolizes. What could be more hurtful than being shunned for no good reason by someone you admire? If Carter’s refusal hurt Rubin Jr, it didn’t show one bit because he kept on swinging.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

THE BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET FEATURING KURT ELLING PERFORMED MUSIC FROM ACCLAIMED 'UPWARD SPIRAL' PROJECT AT PARADISE JAZZ SERIES


Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling
Surely, for many at the sold out Branford Marsalis Quartet’s concert featuring jazz vocalist Kurt Elling it was the first time witnessing an encore morph into a jam session. That’s what happened Friday evening at the fifth concert of the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The band put on inarguably the best show of this season. Hell, I’d argue the best in the past five years. And the encore was damn near as good as the concert. Marsalis and his band pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Justin Faulkner and bassist Eric Revis and Elling performed music from the acclaimed 2016 album “Upward Spiral.” The two-hour swing fest opened with “Teo” from the quartet’s date “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” after which Marsalis introduced Elling. Elling was of excellent voice. It didn’t take long for Elling to go from zero to sixty. Although Elling was the draw, Calderazzo’s and Faulkner’s performance were the most memorable.  Faulkner played as if the ghosts of the late jazz drummers Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey were having a jam session in Faulkner’s body. During his tenure with the quartet, he has become the standout in the band. Calderazzo was right there with him, and it was magical watching the two trade. Honestly, when I learned of Elling joining the quartet for the “Upward Spiral” project, I had reservations if a jazz vocalist with such a distinctly beautiful voice would be a disruptive force with the best band in jazz. Elling, however, fits comfortably. After the band showed out on selections such as “There A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York,” “Blue Gardenias,” “From One Island To Another,” “Mama Said,” and “Blue Velvet,” the band exited the stage to a well-earned ovation. When the audience settled down, Marsalis and Elling returned to the stage and performed a duet. If that wasn’t enough, Revis came out after them and performed a bass solo that would’ve made Charles Mingus envious. There’s more. The band then played a hot version of “St James Infirmary” This is where the encore morphed into a jam session with trumpeter Terence Blanchard,  and saxophonist Diego Rivera joining in. At this point, people were dancing in the aisles.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

THE JAMES CARTER ORGAN TRIO PERFORMS OBSCURE DJANGO REINHARDT COMPOSITIONS AT PARADISE JAZZ SERIES CONCERT


James Carter
The jazz saxophonist James Carter returned to his hometown, Detroit, Friday evening with his longstanding organ trio drummer Alexander White and organist Gerard Gibbs to perform music from his current project Django Unchained at the Paradise Jazz Series. Carter has been touring the globe in support of the project, which has morphed into a sort of a tribute to the iconic Gypsy jazz great Django Reinhardt. Carter has an obvious affinity for Reinhardt’s work, having explored some of his well-known compositions on the wonderful album “Chasin' the Gypsy.” This time out, Carter has modernized some of Reinhardt’s obscure compositions. Before Carter started the two-hour concert last night, he read off the setlist, which included Reinhardt's “Hedgehog Waltz,” “Castle of Dreams,” “Melodie Au Crepuscule,” and  “Heavy Artillery. Carter also worked in a solo birthday salute to the great jazz vocalist Billie Holliday. Carter performed a soul-numbing rendition of Holliday’s “God Bless the Child” mixed with “Happy Birthday,” which was one of many highlights throughout the concert. The near capacity crowd buckled down for a night of high tier swing that only a saxophonist of Carter’s daring is capable of delivering. Carter was elated to be performing for his hometown, offering one hellacious solo after the other, and closing tunes with his trademark cadenzas. If Sonny Rollins ever relinquish the crown as the reigning king of jazz improvisation, Carter should be the first in line to receive that distinction. Carter’s sidemen were of good form as well. Gibbs has been Carter’s right-hand man coming up on two decades now was the crowd favorite, playing the absolute shit of his Hammond B3. Gibbs is one of the top jazz organists around, and he has a gift for working a crowd. Gibbs loves to clown around. For example, last night there was a moment during a solo where Gibbs played the organ with his chin, and on “Impromptu” he did sort of a tap dance on the paddles of the organ that drove the audience nuts. White has been with the trio for a few years now. He’s the first of the current field of millennial jazz musicians from Detroit to play in a world-class jazz band. By all accounts, White loves the job.  White replaced Carter’s longtime drummer Leonard King.  White is a confident and a tasteful drummer. Tasteful like drummers Joe Chambers and the late Detroit Bert Myrick. The zoom lens was put on White late into the second set on “Impromptu.” It was his first lengthy solo of the night. When he finished, it was clear, at least to me, White is the new engine that powers the trio.

Monday, April 3, 2017

'BEHIND THE SWING: A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIVES OF SOME OF THE WORLD'S FINEST JAZZ MUSICIANS' AVAILABLE NOW

Here's some praise about my new book "Behind the Swing" from noted authors and jazz experts Herb Boyd and James Gallert:
 
There was a time in the fifties and sixties when practically every jazz ensemble of note included one musician from Detroit, or at least one who refined his or her development in the city.  What Charles Latimer demonstrates to a remarkable degree in Behind the Swing--more than a decade of his articles from the Metro Times--is that there were countless other equally proficient composers, teachers and performers worthy of wider recognition. Latimer’s book is an insight aperture of jazz in Detroit, and he embellishes that musical wellspring with lively discussions with a number of notable visitors, such as Wayne Shorter, Ravi Coltrane, and T.S. Monk.  In many ways, Behind the Swing is on the beat and ahead of its time.
--Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit—A People’s History of Self-Determination (Amistad, 2017)
 
"Latimer's fine compilation pulls together both tradition jazz and Avant-Garde jazz musicians.  His easy way with words and natural curiosity about the music he loves affords him a good starting point for interviews.  I learned many new, interesting facts about the musicians, many of whom have been overlooked by "mainstream" scribes.  I definitely recommended Behind the Swing for serious jazz supporters!" 
 
--James Gallert, jazz historian and co-author of Before Motown (University of Michigan Regional 2001)
"Behind the Swing" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnobles.com, and bookamillion.com

Sunday, March 5, 2017

THE JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA PRESENTED ALL ORIGINAL MUSIC FOR ANNUAL UMS CONCERT


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 & CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT PERFORMED FLAWLESS RENDERINGS OF JELLY MORTON'S AND GEORGE GERSHWIN'S OBSCURE COMPOSITIONS AT THE MICHIGAN THEATER

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 & BRIAN BLADE & THE FELLOWSHIP BAND DOUBLE BILL WAS A FITTING CONTRAST OF JAZZ STYLES


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.