Sunday, September 2, 2012

DISPATCHES FROM THE DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL

Saxophonist Steve Wilson
Polished and swinging
It wasn’t surprising jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis put on one of the top sets at the Detroit Jazz Festival Saturday afternoon. Marsalis is an elder statesman of jazz, and he seems musically incapable of doing anything sub-par. For Marsalis’ hit Saturday he used some key lions from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra drummer Ali Jackson, saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, and bassist Carlos Henriquez. They walked on the bandstand swinging. I bet they swing while sleeping. Marsalis called some originals, and Jackson and Blanding were the most valuable players. Jackson had to bring it because he was drumming in his hometown, and Blanding is a conservative sax player by nature with a wild streak he occasionally lets free. Marsalis is a jazz conservative, and he never encouraged showboating. Special guest trumpeter Sean Jones and pianist Aaron Diehl sat in, adding more spice to the performance. They played an slick version of “See See Rider”.

Steve Wilson & Stings
On paper Steve Wilson playing music from “Charlie Parker with String” sounded like a bulletproof undertaking that Wilson couldn’t screw up. Wilson is a skilled, a respected and an outstanding saxophonist with an impressive discography, and he’s running the streets with some jazz big shots Maria Schneider, Nicholas Payton, Mulgrew Miller, and Ray Drummond. But Wilson’s highly anticipated set at the Carhartt Amphitheatre was a snoozer. The spirit of Charlie Parker definitely didn’t bless this performance. “April in Paris,” What Is This Thing Called Love,” and “Easy to Love” were three of the tunes from the original album that was played, but Wilson didn’t do anything interesting with.

Latin Jazz at its finest
There no reason not to love every Latin jazz outfit on earth. That’s what was on my mind at the Absopure Pyramid Stage listening and trying to take note during the Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirate Troubadors hour plus performance. My ink pen was dancing like mad. Vazquez played selections from his latest date “Oasis”. This was Latin jazz at his purest.

Family Affair

Mack Avenue Super Band was comprised of Tia Fuller, Sean Jones, Aaron Diehl, Carl Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Kevin Eubanks, Alfredo Rodriguez and Gary Burton. That’s a lot of egos on one stage. But the Mack Avenue musicians are consummate professionals and they left their egos backstage and delivered a memorable Detroit Jazz Festival performance. Fuller and Diehl both have new album on the way. Diehl had the audience worked up, which was a surprise because Diehl was out of his natural habitat, which is a trio setting. At times, he can be rather austere and tight as those beautifully tailored suits he fancies, but Diehl swung like his life depended on it. The only thing that hindered the Super Band’s set from absolute perfection was Rodriquez one man performance, which altered the dynamics of what his label mates had worked their butts off to establish.
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