Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Big George, the new barber at 100% Barber Shop, tapes a sign on the wall behind his workstation that reads: Free Haircuts Tomorrow. I chuckled, and sit next to a customer reading Michael Rosenberg’s sports column in the Detroit Free Press. Dexter adjusts the blade on his clippers. Dane and Marcus play dominoes on the end table near the big framed window that offers a clear view of Plymouth Road. Cory the barber listens to his iPod sweeping up hair. I am twenty minutes or so early for my bi-weekly appointment. Dane says, KB. my barber went to Lee’s Beauty Supply. When Cory notices me, he props the broom and dustpan against his barber’s chair. Then he removes the white earphones, and asks if I’ve heard the new Cyrus Chestnut album “Journeys”. He gives me the cd case.
“I listened to it last night.” I return the cd case.
Cory shuts off the iPod, wraps the white earphone wire around it, and stuffs it in the breast pocket of his smock.
“It’s the best album Cyrus has put out in a while. Lately, his recordings have been hit or miss, Cory says.
“I’ve been a big fan of his music since hearing Linda Yohn of WEMU play ‘Revelation’ on her program Morning Jazz.”
“Cyrus made one great record after another, but when Atlantic Records closed their jazz division, he kind of regressed.
“He made a few great albums after the company downsized him. ‘Soul Food’ was one of his best,” Cory reminds me.
“I wore out two copies of that record. A lot of my favorite players were on that album James Carter, Christian McBride, Marcus Printup, and Gary Bartz made a cameo appearance.”
“To me, Cyrus’ best work is his trio recordings ‘Revelation’ and ‘Dark Before the Dawn’. ‘Journeys’ is in the same league.
“He’s at the stage now where he’s a storyteller. This album sounds very personal.
Cory mentions Cyrus composed all ten tunes.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his amazing compositions”.
“When he soloed on ‘Little Jon’, I thought he had three extra fingers per hand the way he ran those notes together.”
“Cyrus played in Betty Carter’s band. She encouraged her band-mates to write,” Cory notes.
He recounts an incident Cyrus had with Carter when the pianist joined her band. One night, the band performed Miles Davis’ arrangement of “If I Were a Bell”. Cyrus played the arrangement note for note. After the concert, Carter summoned Cyrus to her dressing room and lit into him, reminding him that she didn’t bring him on board to play standards the same way they were played 40 years ago.
“Be bop Betty was tough. She raised a lot of great musicians.”
“Cyrus is a democratic bandleader. Dezron and Neal had an equally stake in the album,” Cory says. “It’s rare to find a trio album where the sidemen aren’t subservient”.
“I don’t have a favorite track on this album. He carefully designed each track. So many albums are unfocused, and you really can’t get into a groove. I didn’t have that problem with ‘Journeys’. I never wanted to turn it off.”
“Cyrus is a craftsman,” Cory says.
Cory glances at his watch. He realizes it’s time to pick up his daughter, Be bop, from school. My barber, KB, walks into the shop carrying to bags filled with supplies. Cory slips off his smock. He puts on a denim jacket. He fishes his car keys from his pants pocket, and rushes out the shop.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I invited you to my blog because I want to introduce you to my readers. Milton, make yourself comfortable. There’s plenty to eat and drink so help yourself. Most of my reader’s arrived early, and I played them “’Round Midnight”, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, two songs on your forthcoming album "Things to Come". Everybody loved your take of those songs, and was anxious to hear the other tracks. Before I play the entire recording, I want to delve into your background if that’s okay with you.Milton Suggs is 27-year-old, and a native of Chicago. He's a baritone in the tradition of Joe Williams. Suggs’ dad was a popular musician around Chicago. Suggs started out on the drums. Then he switched to piano, studying with pianist Willie Pickens. Suggs attended DePaul University. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis encouraged Suggs to take his singing career seriously after hearing Suggs perform. In 2008, while a graduate student at DePaul, Suggs won Down Beat magazine’s Outstanding Vocal Performance Award. On Suggs’ first recording, “Just Like Me”, he tackled some Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn oldies. Now that my readers are up to speed, I want to comment on “Things to Come, which hit the streets Tuesday.The album is perfect. Thelonious Monk would've enjoyed your version of 'Round Midnight'. You turned the spirituals "We Shall Overcome" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing"  into the blues. Your phrasing on "JL's Blues (Every Night and Every Day)" is akin to the great Kevin Mahogany. "'Cuz I'm in Love with You" is the best song on the album. It has the sincerity and raw emotion that fuels great love songs. I have a prediction: “Things to Come” will catapult your career.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Tenor Saxophonist Ernie KrivdaI’m in hot water again. Ernie, I promised my wife money to have her hair styled this weekend. I’m a little short, and you're partly the blame. I caught part one of your album release party at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café’ Wednesday night. Some of the money I promised my wife I spent on your new recording “Ernie Krivda and the Detroit Jazz Connection Live at the Dirty Dog”. Last year,I heard the tail end of your set at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. I wanted to experience your Detroit Connection band at a smaller venue, so the Dirty Dog was perfect.

The turnout for a weeknight surprised me. I set at the bar next to a jerk. He was tipsy and he yapped the entire time the band played “The End of a Love Affair”. He obviously ignored the sign posted at the bar, asking customers to keep quiet during the performance. The jerk finally shut up when pianist Claude Black soloed. Black has been around forever. He’s still sharp, and has the longest fingers I’ve never seen. Smoke issued from the piano keys after his soloing on “Blues by Any Other Name” and Sonny Rollins’ ditty “St. Thomas”.

Drummer Renell Gonsalves and bassist Dan Kolton are reliable role-players. Both put in some overtime setting up your cadenzas on “All the Things Your Are” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. The crowd was lively, especially the little girl who hung out with her parents. Did you see her? She held a small stuffed animal, and danced off key but enthusiastically. Her folks were there for the chow. It’s a shame they left before the set concluded because obviously she wanted to hear the entire performance. .

To borrow Dale Turner’s expression--the troubled character saxophonist Dexter Gordon portrayed in the movie “’Round Midnight”-- you played sweetly. Your manner was engaging. You looked animated. For instance, when you soloed on a medium tempo number, you leaned forward and poured the music out your horn. On up-tempo tunes, you wrestled with the sax as if it wanted to jump out your hands. When your sidemen had their moments, you closed your eyes. You, swayed back and forth as though you felt every note they culled from their instruments. Like the great tenor saxophonists Ike Quebec, Jimmy Forrest, and Arnett Cobb, you know how to work ballads. Overall, your band made swinging look easy. Ernie, maybe my wife will read my comments and forgive me for spending a portion of the cash I promised her.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda performs four nights at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I called Cory the barber to ask if he wants to catch the 8:30 set Saturday night. Be bop, Cory’s 11-year-old daughter, answers his cellular phone. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s, new album “The Gates BBQ Suite” plays in the background. Be bop tells me that her dad is showering. I tell her to give him the message about the Krivda performance.
“Uncle Chuck, you don’t want to talk to me,” Be Bop asks. Her real name is Inez. A famous jazz drummer, who she met recently nicknamed her Be bop, and she demands everybody calls her that. Inez loved the nickname so much she asked her parents if she could legally change it to Be bop.
“Don’t you have homework, and where is that horrible noise coming from.” Be Bop says her dad sings while showering.
“He sounds like a wounded animal,” Be bop jokes.
“Have the neighbors complained”?
“Uncle Chuck. Dad is a pretty good songwriter, but he has a really bad voice. I would rather listen to my English teacher drag or fingernails down her blackboard than listen to my dad sing,” Be bop says.
Be bop has an open relationship with Cory. She makes fun of him constantly. The ribbing never bothers him. Be bop inherited her mom’s sense of humor. I always enjoy talking to Be bop. For an 11-year-old, she is mature and a good conversationalists. We talk mostly about jazz. She knows the music like a mechanic knows a transmission.
“Is that Bobby Watson’s knew album playing”?
“Yeah, dad bought it a few days ago.”
“Do you like it”?
“Not really. It’s supposed to be a suite dedicated to his favorite hometown Barbeque joint. I'm surprised dad bought it. Dad is a vegetarian. I think it’s odd he would pay good money for a record about Barbeque,”
“Uncle Chuck, the album doesn’t have any soul. You would think music about a soul-food staple would have a lot of soul,” Be bop points out.”
“That’s a good point. Do you have any other albums by Watson?
“Dad have jams Bobby Watson performed on with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s and most of Watson’s Horizon albums.”
I listened to ‘The Gates BBQ Suite’ a few times, and I was unimpressed, so I understand Be bop feelings about the album.
“It’s really hard now to get into a big band record after listening to the Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Detroit jazz fest,” Be bop admits.
“Maria’s orchestra was amazing. I was reminiscing about that performance yesterday. Maybe, in fairness to Watson, you should take another stab at ‘The Gates BBQ Suite a few months from now after the residue from Maria’s orchestra has worn off.
“I don’t think that will change my opinion,” Be bop says.
“Give it a shot anyway.”
“How do you feel about the record”?
“I’ve heard high school big bands that sound more polished.
“Uncle Chuck that’s mean.”
“The album, in part, was a showcase for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra. The album didn’t sound like a suite at all.
Be bops asks me to hold on. I hear Be Bop talking to her dad. She informs me her dad is free Saturday evening, and he finds it hard to believe I dislike Bobby Watson’s new record.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Jazz Vocalist Sachal VasandaniI caught your performance at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café last night. I set next to the owner Gretchen Carhartt-Valade. I jotted down notes on a notepad, and nursed a cranberry juice with lime on the rocks. I wanted to experience you live. In 2007, I purchased your debut album “Eye’s Wide Open”. I liked your voice right away, but I had mixed feelings about the album. None of the songs fit your voice. I heard the album established you. Sachal, before I comment on your performance last night, I want to share some of your background and career highlights.

The vocalist grew up in Chicago. His folks had eclectic taste in music. Sachal gravitated to jazz. He attended the University of Michigan. In 1999, Down Beat magazine named him the Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year. He was a semi-finalist in the 2004 Thelonious Monk Institute Competition. Two years later, Mack Avenue Records signed him, and the following year, the company released his debut “Eyes Wide Open”.

Sachal, last night, before the last set began I chatted with several people who were upset because drummer Kendrick Scott was a no-show. I got the impression they were more interested in hearing the drummer. The Dirty Dog's bartender explained that Scott stayed in New York. I figured the drummer had a better offer. Scott is a powerful drummer, but your performance was successful without him. Maybe leaving Scott out the lineup was smart. You had a proficient support staff bassist David Wong and pianist Jeb Patton. Patton--a disciple of Sir Roland Hanna and a chartered member of the Heath Brother's (Jimmy and Percy) outfit--fingers melted on the piano keys like butter. Wong has a strong work ethic, knowing when to pour it on and when to hold back. The Dirty Dog Jazz Café’ is a swanky place in the upscale suburb of Grosse Pointe, MI. Some of the people who frequent the café are conservative and proper. You are probably more accustomed to performing for a looser audience.

I appreciated how you mixed things up, performing music from your new album “We Move” as well as material written by Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk. Your voice is built for ballads. Your phrasing is akin to Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme. It’s neat how you lower you voice to a whisper midway through ballads. You kept the scatting to a minimum. Sometimes it’s annoying when vocalists scat more than they sing. You know how to balance the two. At times, the crowd was inattentive, but you stayed composed. You never resorted to any shenanigans to get their juices flowing. You put on a respectable show.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Cory the barber stood on my front porch. He held a sky blue envelope and a copy of saxophonist Kirk Whalum's new album "Everything is Everything the Music of Donny Hathaway" in his right hand. Before he stepped inside my house, he passed me the envelope. Then he gave me the black man’s handshake. The handshake is too complicated to describe. At the Detroit International Jazz Festival, I hung out with Cory and Inez. I invited them over to watch the men’s finals of the U.S. Open. Novak Djokovic challenged top ranked Rafael Nadal. Rafael chased his first grand slam. He was the favorite. Cory and Inez love tennis, and I developed a fondness for the sport when I finally learn how officials score the individual games, what deuce, love, break point, and match point meant. I called in a few favors and scored Cory and Inez a backstage pass to the jazz fest.

September 4, Inez turned 11-year-old. She met and took photos with a number of her favorite jazz musicians Tia Fuller, Branford Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Turre, and Roy Haynes. Haynes liked Inez immediately because she had listened to all his classic albums, and she knew all the sidemen who played on the recordings. When Inez is excited, she talks rapidly. The drummer likened her speech to how fast Bird and Dizzy sped through the changes to be bop staples such as “CoCo” and “Cherokee”. Haynes nicknamed Inez Be Bop. Her dad felt that was a suitable pet name.
“Where is Be bop,” I asked. I closed the front door after Cory entered.
“She's at some family get-together with her mother. She wanted to come, but her mom laid a guilt trip on her, so she decided to hangout with her mom.”

I led Cory the barber to my family room. Whalum’s album played. The saxophonist performed with Hathaway’s daughter Lalah, at the Detroit jazz fest. We missed the performance. I bought the album, and planned to listen to it with Cory and Inez before the tennis match started. Cory had a copy of it. He did not know I purchased it. When Cory flopped down on my brown sectional sofa in the family room, track 5 “A Song For You” played. I opened the envelope Inez asked her dad to give me. Inside it was a thank you card and several photos Cory took of Be Bop backstage. The card read:

“Uncle Chuck, thanks for letting me and my dad hang out with you at the jazz fest last weekend. I had an amazing time. I never thought I would ever get a chance to meet my favorite jazz musicians. Tia Fuller was really nice, and Branford Marsalis was really funny and smart. Roy Haynes was the coolest. Do you like the nickname he gave me, Be Bop? When I grow up, I’m going to have that name on my business cards. Inez “Be Bop” Little. Uncle Chuck hanging out with you and dad listening to live jazz was the best birthday present I’ve ever receive. Thank you so much!
Never stop swinging,
Be Bop

I felt good after I read Be Bop’s thank you card. I never told Cory that I secretly wished Inez were my daughter. I placed it on the coffee table next to a photo of my oldest nephew Jalen in his football uniform clutching a football, and a photo of me hugging my wife on our wedding day.
“It safe to say Inez really enjoyed the jazz fest,” I said. I set on the opposite end of the sectional.
“That's all she’s been talking about,” Cory said.
“It’s amazing how much she loves music ”.
“Her mom was the same way. That’s why I fell in love with her. But our mutual love for music wasn’t enough to keep us together. Inez was the one thing we did right.”
“She’s something special. Has Be Bop listened to Whalums album”?
“My daughter is a jazz purist--maybe the youngest jazz purist on earth. She hates smooth jazz.
“I don’t like this album.”
“I think it’s pretty good.”
“The album is all over the place. It sounds as though Kirk couldn’t decide what kind of album he wanted to make. He supposedly was honoring Donny Hathaway, but it doesn’t feel or sound like a tribute about at all,” I said.
“Kirk is a great saxophone player. He sounds a lot like Grover Washington Jr. during his heyday,” Cory said.
“His saxophone skills are solid. I will give him that much, but this album is like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“I like the collaborations on the album with Musiq Soulchild on ‘We’re Still Friends’ and ‘You Had To Know” with Lalah Hathaway. I think those collaborations added to the overall appeal of the album.”
“I like the collaboration with Lalah. I will admit that, but the album was too heavy with cameos, and I thought Kirk’s playing got lost. The album needed some heavy editing.”
“I thought the album showed his versatility. You know, Kirk is one of those cats who like to mix things up. He can play R&B, Gospel, and straight up instrumental music.”
I asked my guest if he wanted something to drink or eat. He declined. I excused myself to grab a bottle of water. When I returned Cory had changed his mind, and asked for either a soda or a glass of juice.
“Including all those genre on one album is tricky. Most musicians who try to mix things up are unsuccessful,” I said.
“Was there anything you liked about the album,” Cory asked.
“On ’Trying Times’, Kirk was really blowing his ass off on that one. Overall, the album was overwrought. I couldn’t get into any one groove because Kirk kept changing gears. At times, the album made me dizzy.”
“You’re being dramatic,” Cory said.
“Honestly, ‘Everything is Everything’ could’ve been a good album if Kirk had held back some. The album just had too much going on. ”
The album ended with the titled cut “Everything is Everything”, which was the weakest song on the album. I peeked at my wristwatch. It was 3:45pm. NBC broadcast of the tennis match began at 4:00pm. I clicked on the television. Nadal and Djokovic trotted on the court.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Drummer Justin FaulknerThis was the Detroit International Jazz Festival's most diverse year. People heard hard bop, avant-garde, Latin jazz and smooth jazz. The festival had a few performances that were weak. Take 6 with the Mulgrew Miller Trio was flat. The a cappella sextet performed some compositions trumpeter Miles Davis put his stamp on. The sextet strayed too far away from their gospel roots. They tried humming and scatting the melody to "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Flamenco Sketches". On the latter, one member even tried to emulate how Davis' muted trumpet used to sound. At best, their scatting was amateurish. The highly anticipated piano duet with Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller was uninteresting. They had similar styles.
The soul dance band Tower of Power was the best non-jazz act. Saturday was packed with memorable performances. Saxophonist Salim Washington & Arts Ensemble of Harlem was the most eclectic. The Tia Fuller Quartet and the Terence Blanchard Quintet put on memorable shows. Maria Schneider Orchestra was the front-runner for the festival's best performance. Schneider's compositions were deep, complex and comparable to Gil Evans. Her orchestra brimmed with some damn fine soloists such as saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Steve Wilson. Trio M's performance was hot as well. Myra Melford played the piano with her hands, forearm and elbow. Legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes played a hit set. As a sideman, Haynes is known for taking long solos. With his Fountain of Youth band, the drummer solos were short and lively. His pianist Martin Bejerano took a few long improvisational excursions. The youngster knows a thing or two about swinging. Haynes is up there in age. He never micro-managed the workload to young band mates. Haynes was in the mix from start to finish, matching their prowess.
The Branford Marsalis set was enjoyable. He changed bass players like dress shirts. The great Eric Revis has been the saxophonist’s go-to-man for years. Marsalis gave a Revis a coffee break on, and invited bassist Christian McBride and Bob Hurst to play a few tunes. Marsalis has replaced his running buddy Jeff "Tain" Watts with Justin Faulkner. Watts, an acrobatic drummer is irreplaceable. Faulkner is a promising young drummer. He has been rolling with Marsalis for nearly a year. Obviously, he listened Elvin Jones and Tony Williams records, and memorized their licks. The downside of attending the Detroit jazz fest is you have to make hard choices. Do you catch the Allen Toussaints set, or the Manhattan Transfer? Or do you try to experience some of both?


Maria Schneider

The Maria Schnieder Orchestra's performance was the best set at the Detroit jazz fest so far. That is a major compliment given Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, Trio M and the Defenders of the Groove featuring Ernie Andrews performed. Like the great jazz orchestral sage Gil Evans, Schneider compositions have depth, and she has a knack for getting the best from her work force. On Schneider's, original Sky Blue", saxophonist Steve Wilson horn melted in his hands. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin had the stamina of a long distance runner on "Journey Home" and "Hang Gliding" . Nowadays, it's hard to tell the difference between the many jazz orchestras out there. The Maria Schneider Orchestra stands out. I felt bad for the Wayne State University Big Band featuring trumpeter Terence Blanchard because that big band followed Schneider, which performance was impossible to top.


I did not know that Michigan has so many excellent trombonists until I caught Ron Kischuk & Master's of Music Trombone at the Mack Avenue Pyramid stage. This trombone summit was the brainchild of Kischuk, who is a competent bandleader and JJ Johnson and Kai Winding authority. Kischk honored both. Kischuk managed to dig up some lesser know JJ Johnson compositions such as "In Walked Horace" and "Sweet Georgia Gillespie" which combined the changes to the standard "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Dizzy Gillespie's classic "Salt Peanuts". To pull off this tribute, Kischuk recruited trombonists Ed Gooch, Randall Hawes, George Troia and Johnny Trudell. All blew as if Johnson's spirit was on the bandstand instructing the trombonists on what notes to play.


Those fans of jazz pianist Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller expecting an old fashion cutting contest at the Carhartt Amphitheatre stage was disappointed. Barron and Miller are classy pianists. They take their jobs seriously, and neither player is much for horsing around on the bandstand. Neither pianist attempted to outplay the other. They have similar styles and are showboating is beneath them. They never deviated from the script. The played extended versions of familiar standards from the great American songbook, and that seemed to be good enough for the capacity crowd, but I found the duet lacking. Both has similar styles. It would have been more interesting if it were two pianist who have little in common performing. Barron and Miller are too proper to get their hands dirty.


It's impossible for a group that has Eddie Henderson, Louis Hayes, Bobby Watson, Steve Turre, Melvin Sparks, and the blues vocalist Ernie Andrews to strike out. The Defenders of the Groove never came close to putting out a bad product Sunday evening. Steve Torre blew fire out his seashells. Andrews’s voice was stronger than a bodybuilder's biceps. The man is 82-year-old and he was bouncing around the stage like a fitness instructor. There was an annoyance worth discussing. The Defenders of the Groove apparently travels with a hype man. I did not catch the fellows name but he was corny and waisted a lot of time trying to get the audience fired up. When his unfunny wisecracks failed, he walked through the audience attempting to involve them in the performance. Bassist Christian McBride was supposed to introduce the band, but the hype man kept interrupting the bassist. Fed up McBride gave the microphone to the attention greedy hype man. Then McBride gracefully walked off the stage. Despite the hype man's constant interference, Andrews and company had a memorable set.

Sunday, September 5, 2010



Saxophonist Tia Fuller, the first lady of Mack Avenue Records, is a bona fide jazz saxophonist. Her current album "Decisive Steps" is her best recording output so far. Saturday afternoon at the Absopure Riverfront stage, her quartet gave an outstanding performance, playing selections from the new album. Fuller showed that she is a democratic bandleader, giving her staff pianist Shamie Royston, bassist Mimi Jones, and drummer Randy Royston a fair share of the spotlight. Royston, Fuller sister, played a picturesque solo on "Windsoar". On "Decisive Steps", Mimi Jones walked the bass like a family pet. Fuller had some noteworthy quality moments, trading with the drummer on "Clear Mind", and how she made her horn sound emotional on the ballad "I Can't Get Started". By the end of the tune, tears streamed down the side of her sax.


Multi-reed player and bandleader Salim Washington & the Harlem Arts Ensemble played an eclectic set at the Mack Avenue Pyramid stage. The ensemble is cross generational, and employs a few familiar faces such as the multi-gifted trombonist Frank Lacy, and guitarist Keith Owens. This is a jazz ensemble impossible to typecast because Washington likes to mix things up, which he did successfully performing obscure material by Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, and George Duke. What a diverse set-list. The ensemble handled the material by those jazz luminaries skillfully, but Washington's ensemble seemed right at home performing his original works "Elder Washington" and "Recognition". The clever jazz pianist Pamela Wise managed somehow to work in some boogie-woogie licks while his soloing on "Elder Washington". On "Recognition", viola player Melanie Dyer proved her overall net worth. Lacy was the most colorful and entertaining member, He kept right on blowing and improvising although the sound engineer had a tough time adjusting the volume on his microphone. Washington has a scholarly understanding of the inner workings of the tenor sax. He solos were like musical lectures


Pepper Adams acolyte baritone sax man Gary Smulyan and the last be bop king pianist Barry Harris put their chops together for a tribute to the godfather of the baritone sax Pepper "the knife" Adams. According to jazz lore, Adams jazz running buddies nicknamed him "the knife" because he sliced up a legion of jazz saxophonist stupid enough to challenge Adams at jam sessions. Smulyan and Harris performed compositions Adams either wrote or had a hand in immortalizing. Smulyan and Harris opened the tribute with "That Freedom", a 16 bar blues composed by the recently departed Hank Jones. Then they followed up with one of Adams original's "Musing". Overall, it was the type of picture perfect performance fans of Simulyan and Harris have grown accustom to witnessing. Smulyan played like Adams' spirit blessed his horn before the gig.


Trumpeter Terence Blanchard's band is made up of hungry jazz musicians, who gladly shoulder the bulk of the band’s workload. At the Carhartt Amphitheatre stage, Blanchard delegated most of the soloing to tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Joshua Crumbly and pianist Fabian Almazan. The Cuban born pianist played as if he were the boss. His mannerisms and phrasing was akin to Keith Jarrett during Jarrett's heyday. Winston, a rugged tenor player wolfed down the changes to "A Time to Share" and "Him or Me" like a hungry man a home cooked meal. Blanchard solos were brief and fabulous. He played hunched over with the bell of his trumpet almost kissing the stage floor. The youngsters behaved as if they did not mind being overworked.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Pianist Mulgrew Miller

The a cappella gospel sextet Take 6 took a huge risk Friday, the opening night of the 31st Detroit International Jazz Festival. Accompanied by the Mulgrew Miller trio, Take 6 started their hour long set unearthing several tunes the late jazz trumpeter and rock star Miles Davis immortalized "Seven Steps to Heaven", "Flamenco Sketches" and "Freddie Freeloader". The a cappella sextet seemed out of their league although they performed the same tunes with Miller awhile ago at Jazz at the Lincoln Center. The sextet seemed unpolished. Alvin Chea almost made a mockery of himself making his voice sound like an acoustic bass then attempting to match wits with Miller's clever young bassist Ivan Taylor. It was obvious to any audience member with jazz savvy ears that neither member was completely facile in the fine art of jazz scatting. They did a decent job considering, but I wonder if it would have been a complete disaster if Miller were not on hand to help them navigate the jazz tunes. Miller was brilliant from start to finish, which those familiar with his music expected. Midway through the set, Take 6 switched the focus from Miles Davis's jazz favorites to spirituals. They were more at home and creative performing the spirituals. On the first number, they switched tempos a few times dubbing it the Detroit remix. The audience ate it up. Toward the end of "Mary Don't You Weep" Mark Kibble and Cedric Dent became in embroiled in sort of a gospel-cutting contest. That was definitely the highlight of the set and got the audience all fired up for the closing act Tower of Power.


During the Tower of Power set, the man seated to my immediate right tapped me on the shoulder. Then he whispered in my ear Tower of Power was not playing jazz but they were definitely super bad. That statement pretty much summarizes the funk ensemble's performance, which almost had every able body in attendance dancing. The bands over the top performance will make the festival highlight reel. The ensemble has been around for four decades. Larry Braggs is a wonderful funk vocalist and a skilled showman. He knows how to get the females all steamed up. On one tune, Braggs gyrated and thrust his hips as if he was auditioning for a porno. The five women seated in front of me went wild. One unhooked her store bought ponytail and twirled it in the air. That really did not happen, but she was worked up. Braggs is the lead singer, but he understands that the ensemble is the star. People do not come out to experience only one member. They come to experience the whole. They performed many of their greatest hits and new material from their latest album "The Great American Soul Book". The best part of the ensemble's set was the medley of James Brown's song they performed. Of course, some of the member did their best Godfather of Soul impersonation.