Saturday, February 12, 2011

HIGH WATTAGE


Tain, allow me the opportunity to welcome you to my blog I Dig Jazz, and to congratulate you on becoming the Artist in Residence for the 32nd Detroit International Jazz Festival. I hope you know what you’re in store for. Your predecessors Mulgrew Miller, John Clayton, Christian McBride, and Regina Carter set the bar high. They worked non-stop. I’m not trying to frighten you, Tain, so I’m get to why a invited you over. Last night, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, I caught your two-hour concert, and I want to discuss it with you. It ranks as the best concert I’ve attended this year. I know we’re only two months into 2011, and there’s a super concert tonight at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, MI, featuring a double bill with pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio, and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s band. Many regional jazz geeks expect it to be one of the top jazz concerts of the year. I admit I’m excited about it as well.
Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts

Anyway, your concert last night was the second annual Freedom concert celebrating African-American history month, and it was better than last year’s spectacle at this mega church on the eastside of Detroit. I forgot the name of church. Bassist Christian McBride wrote the music and arrangements, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but there was too much overkill with the big gospel choir and the recitations of excerpts from speeches by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Ali. Tain, your gig was small in comparison although I was disappointed you took the least number of solos. The concert was half over before you unleashed your inner swinger. There’re other shortcomings worth mentioning.

I never thought I would write this but the concert had too much music. The second have was unnecessary. Frankly, Tain, it wasn’t as thought out as the first half, the vocalist Mavis Swan Poole had an Erykah Badu vibe, and Poole wasn’t in the same league as the other members of the band pianist Geri Allen, bassist Robert Hurst, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and alto saxophonist Wessell “Warm Daddy” Anderson. The second have felt rushed and thrown together. However, the highlights outweighed the shortcomings.

Tain, you were right praising Hurst as the top modern jazz bassist. The bassist is the workhorse the rhythm section and responsible for all the grimy chores. The jazz world is overstocked with run-of-the-mill bass players, but Hurst sets himself a part. Anderson earned his keep as well with some pointed soloing on “Return of the Jitney Man” and “Dancing for Chicken”.

Anderson is as one of the top jazz alto saxophonists working. Allen is a great jazz pianist, and she released two fine albums last year, which made many notable jazz critic’s best jazz albums of 2010 list, but last night Allen, a respectable and economical, improvised, was inhibit. I waited and waited for her to let loose of inner swinger. She never did. Nevertheless, there’s a noteworthy moment where you and Allen traded measures like a brother and sister trade insults. The star attraction was Payton. He hit a high note while soloing on with “Dancing for Chicken” that literally lifted the roof off the museum. Payton is from a remarkable lineage of New Orleans trumpet players. They have something special other trumpeters lack. Tain, save for the rushed second set, the concert was a fitting inauguration for your post as Artist in Residence.
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