Jazz at the Centre is three concerts into its first season. The series has quickly become the top jazz concert series in Detroit. That’s a big deal because of the stiff competition in town. There’re outstanding jazz concerts at Orchestra Hall, the Jazz Café’, and the Virgil Carr Center. The JAC’s audience has increased. The other jazz series have been operating for years and has a loyal following.
Saturday evening the JAC, inside the Northwest Activities Center, put on its best concert so far. The dream band the Cookers – David Weiss, Eddie Henderson, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, George Cables, and Donald Harrison – played a two-hour set that featured some music from the band’s albums Cast the First Stone and Warriors. Plus, the band tried out three new tunes slated for an upcoming release.
The Cookers have the heaviest frontline in jazz trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss and saxophonists Billy Harper and Donald Harrison. Harrison is a new member. He replaced saxophonist Craig Handy.
Harrison is an alto saxophonist with much curb appeal. The New Orleans native and alums of the Jazz Messengers has a stellar body of recordings that includes This Is Jazz, Indian Blues, Nouveau Swing, and For Art’s Sake.
During the concert, Harrison had several arresting solos. On Peacemaker, he nearly blew the clothes off the people in the front-row. That solo was ample proof Harrison is a good fit.
Dave Weiss, the band’s founder, almost caused a riot when he called Croquet Ballet, one of the band’s signature numbers. A man in the audience familiar with the number yelled an ambulance should be called, which implied the band would swing so hard on that number someone being injured was possible. The JAC audience is into crowd participation. So much so, you feel, at times, you’re at a comedy show.
Croquet Ballet was one of several showstoppers. The others were Slippin’ and Slidin,’ a McBee blues hot off the press that had a handful of tempo changes, and Farewell Mulgrew, George Cables’ nod to the late pianist Mulgrew Miller. Farewell Mulgrew was the loveliest number of the evening.
The drummer Billy Hart performed all the band’s dirty work and only soloed on Freddie Hubbard’s The Core. Hart is an old school ham who likes playing long solos. He was all over the drum kit like dirt on work boots. The organizers of the JAC promised a jazz series unlike the others in Detroit. So far, the series is living up to its billing.