Monday, August 19, 2019


Mike Malis
Detroit’s jazz community is known the world over for producing many great jazz pianists such as Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan. To this very day, Detroit continues to make sensational jazz pianists. One such sensation is Mike Malis, a graduate of the University of Michigan and a former pupil of the late pianist Geri Allen. Of the current pool of young jazz pianists on Detroit’s scene, Malis has proven to be one of the most daring, willing to go musically where his peers are reluctant to or don’t have the chops yet to go. Malis’s daring was on full display Friday evening at the Motor City Wine Bar where his quartet performed challenging compositions by Don Cherry, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen, and Wayne Shorter, mixed with some of Malis’s originals fresh from the oven. Malis’s band was comprised of some skilled swingers in trumpeter Kris Johnson, bassist Josef Deas, and drummer Jonathan Taylor. The quartet opened with an updated and extended take on Don Cherry’s “Guinea,” followed by Geri Allen’s “Dolphy’s Dance,” a complicated piece of music Malis admitted he’s been trying to master for years. The audience’s enthusiastic response after the quartet completed the number was a sign Malis with the help of his band has finally nailed Allen’s composition. Malis is a thoughtful young musician who hasn’t been around long, but who has already built quite a name for himself with two terrific recordings on the market “lifted from the no of all nothing,” and “Balance.”  Then there’s his growing body of work as a sideman. Aside from his willingness to tackle complicated material by jazz greats, Malis is equally adept at every branch of jazz bop, swing, the blues, and the avant-garde, which his chops seem to be most suited. Plus, he has a knack for de-complicating compositions so the layman can relate to and enjoy. That trait was immediately recognizable also in the band as a whole. Musically, they were more than capable of going in whatever direction Malis pointed them. The quartet doesn’t hit together often, which is surprising given how totally in sync they were. You wouldn’t have been wrong to estimate the band has been playing together for years. Then again, each member is accomplished. Johnson has been on the road for years now with the Count Basie Orchestra. Deas was a vital force in one of Detroit’s all-time great jazz ensembles Urban Transport, and for years has been a Godsend in every band that’s employed him. He isn’t a constant presence on the scene currently like he was when Urban Transport was hot, but given how wonderful he sounded Friday evening on solo after solo he’s been somewhere invested in some woodshedding. His bass walking has grown exponentially. Taylor is new to my ears, but I loved what I heard, a mature and tasteful drummer not interested one bit in wrangling the spotlight. It was refreshing hearing a jazz band run by a young musician confident enough to treat an audience to a night of rarely performed compositions from jazz greats and his own catchy originals.

Friday, August 9, 2019


Kasan Belgrave

Of the current pool of young and talented jazz musicians making waves on the Detroit jazz scene, the alto saxophonist Kasan Belgrave is possibly the most scrutinized because his father is the late legendary trumpeter and jazz educator Marcus Belgrave. Being the heir of such an internationally revered force could be daunting. However, if the young Belgrave is feeling the heat of his father’s legend or obligated to surpass his father’s accomplishments, it didn’t show Thursday evening at Cobb’s Corner Bar & Restaurant where Belgrave has a weekly residency. Belgrave, a respectful, smart and good looking young man, is comfortable captaining his band, a skin tight-knit trio with bassist Mike Palazzollo and guitarist Jacob Schwandt. Belgrave is graduating soon from the University of Michigan where he studied with saxophonist Andrew Bishop. A few songs into the opening set it was obvious Belgrave is a serious and adept student of jazz who’s tapped into the history of the alto saxophone. Listening to him perform some standards such as “I Remember April,” and “Nobody But You,” proved he’s spent many man-hours picking apart the mechanics of alto players Sonny Red, Lee Konitz, Larry Smith and Sonny Criss. Belgrave doesn’t showboat or play unnecessarily long solos. For a young player still maturing he possesses a polished sound. When his trio performed the standards, he made certain they didn’t stray from the original structure and overall intent of the compositions. It’s worth pointing out he performed in a challenging situation not having a pianist or a drummer in the mix. So, he was exposed for all to bear witness. But his playing was devoid of kinks or imperfections. I chatted with Belgrave after the opening set about his father’s influence. He said his dad encouraged him to explore whatever music the young Belgrave fancied. He doesn’t harp on exceeding his father’s accomplishments. Listening to him talk and perform leaves the impression he’s confidently fixed on making his own name note by note. I doubt if the Cob Corner residency pays much. Nonetheless, it’s a good training ground for Belgrave. Unfortunately, only a handful of people attended his show. The next challenge for him is making a bigger effort to promote the residency. He deserves to be heard.