Sunday, September 8, 2013


Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis

A week has passed since the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival. I still think about the choice performances I saw plus the ones I missed. I made some hard choices. I decided, for example, to catch the McCoy Tyner with special guest Savion Glover set instead of saxophonist Charles Lloyd featuring guitarist Bill Frisell. McCoy and Glover put on the most awe-inspired set I saw all weekend. At, 74, Tyner is still a barnburner. He pushed Glover like he used to push saxophonist John Coltrane decades ago. Wonder if Glover had to buy new feet after the set because he wore his old ones out.

There were unforgettable sets by the all-star jazz band The Cookers, vocalist Gregory Porter and, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. The Marsalis set, of the three, is the one that stuck to my ribs the longest. Marsalis loves Duke Ellington it seems more than any other iconic big band leader and composer. Marsalis played the music of “Such Sweet Thunder,” Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s shout out to Shakespeare.

Marsalis’ band shone like new hardwood floors. Drummer Winard Harper was the rhythm section's muscle, and his solos would have given a pit-bull goose bumps. I felt as if I were in a graduate seminar on Shakespeare, listening to Marsalis explain the inspiration behind each songs. On “Circle of Fourths,” Marsalis took the melody through more key and tempo changes than an erotic dancer changing costumes.

The Detroit acts were not-to-be-forgotten as well. Saxophonist James Carter blew a new hole in the Ozone during his tribute to tenor saxophonist Don Byas at the Absopure Pyramid Stage. At the J.P. Morgan Chase Main Stage, pianist Geri Allen put on a first-rate tribute to Detroit. Allen pulled the set off with drummer Karriem Riggins and bassist Robert Hurst.

Allen’s specials guests were former Detroiters trombonist George Bohanon, vocalist Sheila Jordan, and saxophonists Dave McMurray (McMurray is still a Detroiter) and JD Allen. Some of Allen’s previous Detroit oriented projects have been overcooked. But this one was cooked perfectly. The trio itself was satisfying enough.  

Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave’s "Trumpet Call" presentation was not as exciting as the "Trumpet Summit" he staged for the 2003 Detroit jazz festival where festivalgoers saw trumpeters Chris Jones, Corey Wilkes, and Sean Jones before they hit it big.  

"Trumpet Call" was worthwhile just listening to Belgrave amuse the crowd with stories about his friendships with trumpet legends Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd and Clifford Brown. Belgrave said Brown schooled him on the fine points of improvising. The standout moment of  "Trumpet Call" was Belgrave blowing on his original “Brownie Town”.

Of the Detroit acts that I saw, drummer Karriem Riggins set was the most eye-popping. The past three festivals, Riggins has presented jazz fusion projects. They were top-heavy with Detroiters, which was not a bad thing. He has an affinity for his homies. And he includes them in his projects. This time out, he hired musicians from the East Coast and the West Coast. The music Riggins spoon fed the crowd was a mix of jazz, hip hop, and techno. It comes off effortlessly and beautifully when he mixes genres. Each year, his projects have gotten tighter.

Did this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival top the 2012, which longtime attendees believed was the best in decades?  Last year’s felt more authentic, geared more toward jazz purists. Obviously, the festival’s Artistic Director, Chris Collins, aim was to expand the festivals scope, booking nontraditional jazz acts. It worked
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