Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE 35TH DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL OPENED FRIDAY EVENING WITH A TERRIFIC SET FROM BAD PLUS FEATURING JOSHUA REDMAN

Bad Plus & Joshua Redman
After 25 minutes of backslapping by the big sponsors of the Detroit Jazz Festival, the 35th installment of the nation’s largest free music festival opened with a brilliant set from the jazz trio Bad Plus. Drummer David King, bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson make up the trio, and their special guest was saxophonist Joshua Redman, the DJF’s artist-in-residence. Honestly, the Bad Plus’s set would’ve been badass without Redman, but his being there was a bonus.

The Bad Plus is a tough band to label. One minute they played what appeared to be rock fusion. The next they stretched out on a free-jazz piece. Then they slipped in a ballad played so lovingly it would've made a stingy bastard donate his life-savings to charity.

Bad Plus kept changing the game plan, playing a bunch of multi-layered original compositions the conservative DJF crowd ate up. Redman was terrific throughout. You could follow the logic of his playing whether he played mellowly as he did on the set opener “Love is the Answer,” or played wildly as he did on the set closer. Anderson wasn't being cocky when he said the band's performance set the tone of the festival.

The second set was billed A Night at the Apollo starring Ted Louis, Margot B, Kevin Mahogany, the Wonder Twins and David Berger’s NYC Big Band. It was a big project design for the DJF. On paper, the project seemed easy to pull off. But the result was a cluster fuck.

Berger’s Big Band was on point playing swing, bebop, and the blues with heart, energy and efficiency. The other acts were flat. Ted Louis is a competent tap dancer and singer. But his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. and Cab Calloway were lame. The Wonder Twins dance routine was puzzling. Kevin Mahogany is a great jazz singer, one of the best in jazz. But his booming voice couldn’t rescue the set.

Mahogany did get a brief rise from the crowd when he belted a blues, his best punch. If Berger’s big band had played the set alone, it would’ve been good enough to maintain the spirited tone Bad Plus had established. 
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