Saturday, March 21, 2015


Brian Blade, Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci
Several things are apparent when you catch the Wayne Shorter Quartet live. One, the quartet never announces the title of tunes they play, nor in any way do they engage their audience. I’ve caught four of the quartet’s shows in recent years and neither member spoke more than a handful of words to the audience. OK, so Shorter is not a talker nor it seems is drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez, and bassist John Patitucci.

One other thing worth noting is some of the music the quartet presents is rather heavily abstract, leaving you wondering if the quartet has a target demographic in mind when they composed their music.

Though the quartet has been together now approaching two decades and has made three excellent albums “Algeria,” “Beyond the Sound Barrier,” and “Without a Net,” the quartet isn’t a swing conscious group as other longstanding groups are, for example, the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Shorter’s music is heady and abstract.

The quartet presented much of that sort of music Friday evening at the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The first half of the hour-plus set was heavy on abstract music the quartet specializes in. If you had a big meal prior to the concert, you could’ve dozed off during the first half of the show.

The quartet came off during that stretch as a tad self-indulgent. The music was wondrous in spots and melancholic in others. Each member virtuosity was on point. The quartet has a knack for giving the impression of creating precious works of arts on the bandstand right before your eyes.

At 81, Shorter still has an abundance of pep in his playing. He showed that during the second half of the set where the quartet deconstructed a Thelonious Monk number and the quartet surprised the audience by horsing around with a handful of Shorter’s classics.

Shorter let the fellows open up and have a little fun in the second half, particularly Blade, the most animated member of the quartet. Shorter still has one of the greatest minds in jazz. He doesn’t squander notes or grandstand. The quartet is tighter than banjo strings. Surely, some members of the near capacity crowd were disappointed because the quartet didn’t play music from its albums.

You can never bank on anything remotely conventional from the quartet. The Shorter fans and supporters in attendance understand his nature and musical idiosyncrasies and they seem to relish in them.

Monday, March 16, 2015


Pianist Ellen Rowe
It is a crying shame the female jazz ensemble that performed Sunday afternoon at Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, MI is only available to the public once per year during Women in Jazz History Month. An ensemble this engaging and terrific should be accessible weekly at some club or concert hall regionally. 

The ensemble was comprised of drummer Nicole Patrick, trumpeter Ingrid Racine, saxophonist Rachel Mazer, trombonist Melissa Gardiner, vocalist Lauren Scales, bassist Marion Hayden, and pianist Ellen Rowe.

They were at the concert house paying tribute to some of the great women jazz musicians of all times. The ensemble put on a meticulous show. The members had a chance to strut not only their considerable chops but also their arranging abilities and compositional skills. The ensemble's set list was a mix of classics and originals.

The women touched on every nook and crevice of jazz the blues, bop, swing, and ballads. In the hour plus set, there’re too many highlights to list, but the one that stuck to my ribs was trombonist Melissa Gardiner wailing on a Melba Liston number. Obviously, from the passion Gardiner displayed during the solo Liston was one of her primary musical influences.

The ensemble performed two of Liston’s tunes, along with material from Alice Coltrane arranged by Marion Hayden and “Lady Sings the Blues” lyrics by Billie Holiday sang perfectly by Lauren Scales. Keep an eye on Scales. She's going to be a force in the music in the coming years. Mark my word.

Tenor saxophonist Rachel Mazer was another standout. She has a big polished tone on the tenor and she wolfed down the changes like Valentine chocolates when she soloed.

The ensemble's sound and overall appeal is powered by Ellen Rowe who have some of the sweetest fingers ever to caress piano keys. Besides, Rowe is everything you want in a bandleader, non-intrusive, supportive, and firm-handed when necessary.

The ensemble played a blues, and Rowe’s solo was so good and convincing it could’ve made the Jesus cuss. This is a world-class ensemble of female jazz swingers – but who really cares about the ensemble’s gender – who I’d pay good money to experience any day of the week.

Unfortunately, there’re no club owners forward thinking enough to give this ensemble a shot. Except, of course, the progressive folks at Kerrytown Concert House.