Saturday, October 15, 2016


Russell Malone

The 2016-2107 jazz series at The Carr Center officially launched Thursday evening with an exciting concert by the Michigan State University Orchestra that featured the jazz guitarist Russell Malone. Sadly, 2017 will be the last time the jazz series is held at The Carr Center's home of nearly a decade on E. Grand River in downtown Detroit. The folks at The Carr Center it seems plans to exit swinging given the excellent lineup on the books.  This season’s lineup has saxophonist Steve Coleman, the Geri Allen Trio with special guest Grammy-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Rodney Whitaker’s Vocal Jazz Summit, and his band performing drummer Max Roach’s landmark “Freedom Now Suite,”. Then the Michigan State Jazz Orchestra has three more concerts featuring bassist Rufus Reid, saxophonist Anat Cohen, and trombonist Conrad Herwig. The past two years the MSU Jazz Orchestra nicknamed the Bebop Spartans, served a residency at The Carr Center.
The Bebop Spartans is a college orchestra with the professionalism and the sound of a seasoned orchestra. The Spartans showed their ability to swing like crazy during their Thursday night set with Russell Malone whose reputation as a star jazz guitarist is public knowledge.
Malone has 13 primo jazz albums out as a bandleader, and he’s built his chops and his name playing with global stars such as Ron Carter, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall. 

The Bebop Spartans started the concert with a Thad Jones burner written way back when for the Count Basie Orchestra. The Spartans repurposed the number into a battle starring the saxophone section and the brass section. Listening to them go at it was an early indicator it was going to be a pleasure based evening.
After the song ended, Rodney Whitaker, the orchestra’s conductor and the director of jazz studies at MSU, asked the audience by a show of applauds which section had won the battle. The battle was a tie the audience agreed.
Next Whitaker called “Blues Back Stage”. On it, the Spartans truly demonstrated their stuff, and it was intriguing how adeptly the students handled Frank Foster’s blues. The Spartans had the audience going, and the stage hot as fish grease by the time Malone joined in. He didn’t go easy on the Spartans. He hit the stage with the same drive as if performing with his worldly and accomplished peers.  Never once did the Spartans bulk or appear the least bit intimidated.
On every number, the Spartans showed they own shitloads of self-confidence, and they understand the mechanics of swinging. The Spartans delivered many goose-bump inducing moments, but the surprise of the night came when Whitaker and Malone performed a duet on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”.  Wonder if Whitaker was a little jealous of all the excitement the Bebop Spartans and Malone generated, and Whitaker wanted in on the fun.
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