Monday, June 21, 2010

CON JOB

Pianist Chick CoreaMr. Corea, any sane jazz fan would be right to assume a quartet that has bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the iconic drummer Roy Haynes should make for a memorable concert. That's unquestionably a marketable all-star lineup. Mr. Corea I have to be up front with you. I was anxious to catch your set on Father's Day at Orchestra Hall. Honestly, and I will tell you why, I was thoroughly disappointed. The near two hour performance felt thrown together, which according to the president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra--who talked about how the concert came about minutes before your quartet hit the stage--wasn't far from the truth. She pointed out it was organized spur of the moment.

It was the first time I attended a concert at Orchestra Hall and the ushers seated latecomers while the band played. Many things bothered me. For the first have of the show, the quartet was lackluster. The quartet seemed unconcerned about giving the audience their money worth. Honestly, Mr. Corea, the first hour felt like a dress rehearsal, especially when you all debated which tune to play next. I thought to myself, man, they are winging it. They never prepared a set list.

There're a few noteworthy moments, but not hardly enough given the caliber of musicians. McBride-- an honorary member of the Detroit jazz community since his riveting performance as headliner and artist in residence at the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival--was in top form.

McBride played the bass as if the late bassist Ray Brown had blessed it. Jazz bassist are a dime a dozen. There are many great ones on the scene, but McBride is at the head of the pack. I could've listened to his soloing all night. When Garrett is about to take off on an improvisational excursion he sways back and forth. Garrett is streaky although the reigning king of the alto sax. Sometimes,the man is brilliant. Other times he's really bad. Last night, he was a little bit of both. Garrett, finally came alive toward the end, but it was too little too late. I had already written his participation off as a bust.

At 85, Haynes remains jazz's greatest living show boater. I've seen Haynes perform before, and I own many of his classic jams such as "We Three," "Out of the Afternoon," "Cracklin" and my all time favorite "Cymbalism". I have a confession, listening to "Cymbalism," I developed a serious “man-crush” on alto saxophonist Frank Strozier.

Midway through the concert, Haynes did his trademark hey-mom-look-at-me drum solo, which I used to love. When he finished, the crowd went nuts. The husky white guy sitting to my left snacking on 99 cent bag of peanut M&M's was amazed by Haynes' endurance, finding it unbelievable the drummer could still wail at 85.I wanted to tell the guy Haynes has played the same funk tinged solo for decades now, but I held my tongue. Haynes was once the quintessential jazz drummer. Somewhere along the road, he morphed into a funk drummer.

Mr. Corea, your performance was the least inspired. You still have a knack for playing very picturesque lines akin to the great Bud Powell, but your solos were dull. I saw you two years ago at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI with your running-buddy from Miles Davis' fusion faze guitarist John McLauglin. McBride, Garrett and the energetic drummer Brian Blade were members. The band blew me away. Your work that evening was indescribably good. Your set last night was the polar opposite. I felt like a victim of a con job.

The organizers billed it your Freedom band, and that was misleading. The quartet seemed shackled. Save for McBride no one brought their A-game. Sometimes, all-star bands click, and other times they stink. I wondered if you had an opening or cancellation on your touring schedule and you decided to play Detroit at the last minute to make some extra cash.
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