Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Saxophonist Marcus Elliot (Photo by Lukas Hagen)
I heard a promising jazz trio Tuesday evening at the jazz club Cliff Bell’s in downtown Detroit. The trio was run by 22-year-old tenor sax player Marcus Elliot. His given name was Marcus Miller. Because he was constantly mistaken for the famous smooth jazz guitar player Marcus Miller, Elliot changed his surname. Last year, he graduated from Michigan State University, and he released his first album “Looking Forward”. 

Elliot's dad, a lifelong jazz fan, turned him on to the music. When his dad caught a show at Bert’s Marketplace—one of Detroit’s well-known jazz club—Elliot accompanied him. As a pre-teen Elliot heard and met some top Detroit jazz musicians James Carter, Larry Smith and Marcus Belgrave. (Elliot has worked off and on with Belgrave since October.)

Elliots reputation as a tenor player is growing. When renowned bass player Robert Hurst returned to Michigan and assembled a new band, he hired Elliot. Since then, he has added performances with Jimmy Cobb and Bennie Maupin to his resume’.

Tuesday, evening was the first time I heard Elliot’s trio. In 2010, I saw him with Hurst at the Vigil Carr Center. Elliot was 18, and Hurst’s band played originals from his albums “Bob Ya Head,” and “Unrehurst Volume Two”. Elliot was comfortable on stage with vet jazz musicians twice his age.

For two months, Elliot has performed Tuesday’s with drummer Julian Allen and bass player Ben Rolston. They’ve played together for two years, and they’re serious up-and-comers. Each Tuesday the trio test drive new tunes. That’s how Elliot designed the trio.

The standout tunes were Elliot’s “Mister Allen,” and Rolston’s “Branches and Bark,” which had a variety of tempo and mood changes. There was a catchy reworking of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and I rather lifeless take of Roberta Flack’s slow jam “Feel Like Makin’ Love”. Their music is modern, but not too way out, and the trio sound happier playing originals.

Elliot has a clean cut and grown up sound, and clearly he spent considerable man-hours examining tenor sax player Mark Turner’s style. Elliot isn’t into grandstanding. Someday the major focal point of his career is going to be composing. 

For now, Elliot is still in the chops-building-stage of his career. In a good three years, he will be ready to take on New York. Rolston’s is the most exciting, and his style resembles the late jazz bass wunderkind Scott LaFaro. While I listened to Rolston soloing, I wondered if the trio could survive if he wasn’t around to navigate. 

Allen is the trio’s workaholic perfectly content overseeing the manual chores. And he's not a drummer who's  unnecessarily bombastic, or who's prone to selfishness. The trio has it together. I wish they’d stay together for the years to come, but that’s unlikely. Better paying gigs and chances to work for big named jazz musicians are destine.
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