Sunday, September 1, 2013


Pianist McCoy Tyner
The 74-year-old jazz pianist McCoy Tyner walked on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage at the Detroit Jazz Fest Saturday to an ovation deserving of a jazz musician of his stature. During his hour plus set with tap dancer Savion Glover, Tyner channeled the energy he possessed decades ago backing saxophonist John Coltrane. Tyner’s aggressive style was in mint condition like on some of the classic albums he made for Impulse Records.

Tyner’s set lived up to its high billing. Before Tyner called up Glover, his trio had the crowd juiced and the stage hot as French fry grease. The trio and Glover clicked immediately. Tyner and Glover traded like tenor saxophonists in an old-school cutting contest. In all the years I have covered the Detroit Jazz Festival, I never witnessed the crowd go completely nuts midway through each number. Glover was tap dancing so fast I thought his tap-shoes were going to catch fire.

I lost count of the ovations Glover received. After the third number, the drummer, the bassist  and Glover left the stage. I figured to give his feet a must needed coffee break. Tyner played solo, settling down the crowd with a ballad played lovingly like the ballads he performed on his album “Nights of Ballads and Blues”. The performance was the most exciting performance I have experience at the Detroit Jazz Festival in years.

Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant set at the Amphitheater was also highly anticipated. It followed Tyner’s performance.  In 2010, Salvant won the Thelonious Monk International Vocalist Competition. Since the win, she has received a lot of good press. “Woman Child,” her debut for Mack Avenue Records is glorious. It is the best jazz album by a vocalist I have experienced so far this year. I’m a fan of Salvant. It pains me to write her performance with the David Berger Jazz Orchestra was stiff.     

Berger is a seasoned arranger. He wrote the arrangements for the performance. It was Salvant’s first shot at an international jazz festival performing with an orchestra. Frankly, she seemed as if she could not get into the arrangements. I wondered if headlining an international jazz festival this early in her career was too much of an undertaking. At age 23, she has not accumulated a  lot of frequent flier miles as a bandleader or as a headliner. And her inexperience showed.

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