Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Saxophonist Tony Lustig

The past three years, the baritone saxophone player Tony Lustig has put on a holiday show at the Cadieux Café on Detroit’s east side. The show is jammed every year. Lustig—a Detroiter who now lives in New York and who’s made a name there—knows how to entertain. He kept the crowd cheery for three sets with good swing music, and a handful of Christmas classics.

In 2009, Lustig moved to New York. He’s played with some decorated jazz big bands the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Christian McBride Big Band. Being hooked up with those big named bands may explain how Lustig has developed such a unique voice on the baritone sax so fast.

This year, for the annual show, Lustig hired three of Detroit’s top sidemen drummer Jesse Kramer, bass player Jeff Pedraz, and piano player Mike Jellick. Lustig’s sets included some familiar jazz gems such as “My Shining Hour,” “Strollin’,” “Swingin’ at the Haven” and “Hard Times”. Plus, Lustig called some new cuts from his debut album “Taking Flight” due out next year.

Lustig is a baritone player who climbed the ranks the old-fashion way. During his early years, Lustig studied with jazz bass player and educator Rodney Whitaker at Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Jazz program. (I first met Lustig there. I was assigned to write about the program for the weekly newspaper the Metrotimes. Lustig was one of the students I was drawn to. He was a mature teen, and I felt Lustig would be a special player someday).

After his run with Civic Jazz, Lustig joined Whitaker at Michigan State University. Whitaker runs the jazz studies program there, and Lustig was a prize recruit. A big part of Lustig’s seasoning was studying the great baritone sax players Gerry Mulligan, and Pepper Adams.

Lustig can make the baritone sound like a tenor sax, which he told me after the first set he’s been trying to perfect for some time now. Well Sunday night’s show proved Lustig has it down pat.

Being backed by Kramer, Pedraz, and Jellick made it all the more real. Lustig blew every note with a keen sense of tailoring. His working in big bands has imbued the value of teamwork. Lustig is no ham. He shared the spotlight with his sidemen.

They showed their thanks playing outstanding solos, particularly Pedraz who style called to mind the great Cameron Brown. The first-call drummer Jesse Kramer isn’t big on being out front. But when Kramer took a few solos, they were well-developed like a pro bodybuilder's calf muscles..

Jellick, a bandleader who runs the Wednesday night session at the Northern Lights in mid-town Detroit, never showed any signs of battle fatigue. 

Friday, Jellick premiered his arrangement of the “The Nutcracker Suite” at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Saturday, evening he played it again at Cliff Bell’s. Reasons enough to give his A game the night off. If Jellick was fatigued, somehow he found the resolve to recharge his A game. Jellick was by Lustig's side on every number. 

 Lustig has put in hard work, and this annual show, which felt like a community gathering, in three years has become a major happening.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Pianist Mike Jellick

Dear Mr. Tchaikovsky,
I am Charles L. Latimer. I'm a jazz reporter and jazz blogger. I want to take a minute of your time to tell you about an outstanding show I caught Friday night at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The jazz piano player and arranger Mike Jellick put on the show. Jellick is, 32, and in the past two years has become the top jazz piano player in the state of Michigan.

Funny thing, Mr. Tchaikovsky, is five years ago Jellick couldn’t play worth a damn. He had a hard time making a living. Eventually, Jellick became frustrated because he couldn’t get steady work. So he moved to Chicago. Jellick always showed promise. Plus, he had a colorful and a fertile  imagination. But he lacked the chops to pull off all the slick musical ideas swimming in his head. Being in Chicago did him a world of good.

In Chicago, Jellick practiced for two years. He soaked up Chicago’s jazz scene. Then he returned to Detroit anew. It didn’t take long for him to become a first-call commodity. Friday night, Jellick and his quintet—drummer Jesse Kramer, bass player Miles Brown, saxophone player Marcus Elliot, and singer Kira Frabotta and special guest trumpeter Chris Johnson--presented an ambitious work that took Jellick two years to perfect.

Jellick reworked your yuletide masterpiece “The Nutcracker Suite”. Not that it needed reworking. Jellick wanted to put his spin on it, and boy did he ever. Given the positive response from the standing-room-only crowd Jellick’s reworking of the suite was a hit. What did Jellick do to your work you wonder.

Jellick took “The Nutcracker Suite” apart note by note, applied a few new coats of paint on some notes, and added a number of tempo and mood changes. He retooled the suite like an auto mechanic retools an engine of a priceless car. Jellick didn’t borrow from any of the other arrangers who rearranged “The Nutcracker Suite,” including the great Duke Ellington.

Borrowing from others wouldn’t have been a challenge for Jellick. Jellick’s take was solely the product of his imagination. Of course, the show wouldn’t have been a hit without the participation of Jellick’s world-class band.

Miles Brown was sweet. He walked the bass all night long like one of Santa’s reindeers. Kira Frabotta turned her voice into an instrument. Marcus Elliot proved he’s one of the leading tenor players of his generation. He’s a youngster who’s invested plenty man-hours studying the greats of the tenor sax. 

Jesse Kramer was a textbook example of how tasteful a drummer should be. He knows the chief task of a jazz drummer is powering a band, and Chris Johnson fit like candles on a kid’s birthday cake.

Jellick was the consummate leader. Mr. Tchaikovsky, I bet a month’s pay you would’ve loved his playing. And you might’ve been a tad jealous. Damn, I wish I had played the section of the suite that way you might’ve said to yourself.

The best part of the show was Jellick’s solo version of “A Christmas Song,” which received the first of three ovations. Mr. Tchaikovsky, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of people I overheard say Jellick’s show was the best they attended this year. Jellick is performing the suite again tonight at Cliff Bell's in downtown Detroit. If you aren't doing anything you should check it out.

Best always,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


1.)         Don Byron “Love, Peace, And Soul (Savoy Jazz)
Don Byron always thinks outside the box. On this album, Byron performed some deep research into the work of gospel legend Thomas A. Dorsey. Once Byron selected the cuts for this album he picked vocalist DK Dyson to pour her gorgeous voice over each cut. The result is the greatest gospel jazz album in recent memory.

2.)         Ravi Coltrane “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note Records)
Coltrane’s dad saxophone God John Coltrane would be proud of Ravi’s latest album. Ravi has an impressive discography to date, but this album, his first for Blue Note, is Ravi’s opus. Every component works from hiring Joe Lovano to produce it to having pianist Geri Allen to bless it. Ravi is not a natural swinger. His hallmark is story telling.

3.)         Branford Marsalis “Four MF’s Playin Tunes (Marsalis Music)
If nothing else, Marsalis can come up with a catchy title for an album. In the past, there’s been titles such as “Crazy People Music” and “I Heard You Twice the First Time”. Marsalis is by all accounts the leading saxophonist of today, and since opening Marsalis Music, he’s put out one outstanding album after the next. “Four Motherfuckers Playing Tunes” is Marsalis’ finest album for the label thus far. Plus, the album is the proper outlet to showcase the newest member of Marsalis’ band drummer Justin Faulkner—who took Jeff “Tain” Watts’ spot. Faulkner proves to be a suitable replacement, and it’s fun listening to the other longstanding band-mates break in the youngster.

4.)         Eric Alexander & Vincent Herring “Friendly Fire” (High Note) This album recorded live and Smoke is the second blowing session for two of jazz’s upper tier saxophonists, and the high level of swing is on par with the classic blowing sessions Eddie “lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin made. Be careful with this album. It will burn up your ear drums.

5.)         Cyrus Chestnut “The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet” (WJ3) Chestnut is the kind of pianist who can let his inner swinger go at will. That’s particularly true when he’s leading his trio. When playing with his quartet, Cyrus likes to give his sidemen the lion share of the spotlight. On this album, Chestnut’s best in years, he ask saxophonist Stacy Dillard to shoulder most of the workload, and Dillard does so magnificently.

       6.) The Cookers “Believe” (Motema)
         Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. It's not difficult at all to make a smoking hot jazz album when those all-star jazz musicians are in the same band. Of course, this project could’ve turned into an ego fest. There’s some strong personalities in the band, but each swinger understood this all-star project wasn’t about individuality. The project worked on paper and it worked in reality.

7.)         JD Allen “The Matador and The Bull (Savant) Saxophonist JD Allen is a thinking man’s saxophonist as evident on all 12 cuts on his latest album. Like Branford Marsalis, there’s substance behind every note that Allen plays. He never swings for the sake of swinging.

8.)         Christian Scott “Christian Atunde Adjuah” (Concord Records) Early in his career it was obvious Christian Scott wasn’t going to be happy as a run-of-the-mill jazz trumpeter. So Scott—who recently changed his name to Atunde Adjuah—has been experimenting since day one, and finally all his hard work has come to fruition with this remarkable double album, a bulletproof representation that Scott has come up with a winning formula.

9.)         Orrin Evans “Flip the Script (Posi-tone) For years now, pianist Orrin Evans has been quietly making wonderful trio jazz albums, but Evans for whatever reason hasn’t garnered the press or praise given his peers. However, Evans carries on unfazed. Here Evan plays blues, pop, and a lot of bop beautifully.
        10.) Halie Loren “heart first” (Justin Time) She is not a household name yet, but who cares this woman can sing. The cut “Waiting in Vain” will make an attack dog cry. Loren loaded up this album with  14 songs, which is a good thing because the time you spend with her delicious voice never feels rushed.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Dianne Reeves
Guitarist/songwriter Raul Midon was billed as a special guest at the second concert of the University Music Society’s Jazz Series Saturday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI. Midon was hired to heat up the stage for jazz singer Dianne Reeves. But Midon pimped the stage as if it was his bitch, and the audience ate it up. Midon, a native of New Mexico who’s been blind since birth has five albums on the market, and he’s been touring with Reeves.

 Midon was escorted on stage and put in front of a mic where he shocked the audience for twenty plus minutes, working out on cuts from his 2010 album “Synthesis”. Midon told the packed auditorium after the opening number there wasn’t any technology on the stage just human technology. Then Midon played the guitar and bongos at the same time, and made his voice sound like a  trumpet. Midon has a good voice, and he can switch from falsetto to baritone. 

I gathered it was the first time most of the audience had experienced Midon. He set the bar high for Reeves. Reeves, one of the top jazz singers around, is having a hall of fame career. But, her live shows are hit or miss. Reeves like to end her tours in her hometown. I’ve caught three, and sometimes she seemed bushed. She’s never really gone for broke. 

Saturday, Reeves’ gorgeous voice was in top condition, but her set didn't have any memorable highlights. Reeves played it safe singing mostly well-known songs such as “Stormy Weather,” and “Misty”. And there was a lot of scatting which Reeves is a pro at. In fact, no Dianne Reeves show would be complete without her scatting up a storm. 

Reeves has one of the toughest bands on earth piano player Peter Martin, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bass player Reginald Veal, and drummer Terreon Gully. And she got good use from them. When Martin and Reeves did a duet on “Misty,” I was reminded of the truism that a jazz singer is only as good as her piano player. 

Martin is a complete package, and I wondered if Reeves could get along without him. Reeves set wasn’t packed with highlights, and obviously she didn’t put a lot of thought into the set list. Honestly, people attend her shows to hear one of the top jazz voices around not to see a spectacle.

Friday, December 7, 2012


The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

At 8:00am sharp, the seven members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band walked onto the stage at Orchestra Hall in mid-town Detroit wearing pallbearer black suits. The band was founded in New Orleans in 1961 and has since become a landmark. The last five plus years the PHJB has experienced a second wind, and the band has been busy touring the world. 

Thursday evening the PHJB stopped in Detroit to play the second concert of the Paradise Jazz Series. The band gave the near capacity house a hearty dish of swing New Orleans style. The members were trumpeter Mark Braud, clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, trombonist Freddie Lonzo, pianist Rickie Monie, saxophonist Clint Maedgen, drummer Joseph Lastie Jr., and tuba and bassist Ben Jaffe.

The PHJB played two sets full of brace-yourself-moments. The first set was full of well-known blues classic such as “St. Louis Blues,” and “Basin Street Blues”. Trombonist Freddie “the Voice” Lonzo stacked up the most unforgettable moments. Lonzo is a character and a monstrous trombonist, and he was comical at times. He’s lauded as the last of what's known as “tailgate trombonists”.

As expected clarinet Charlie Gabriel, the elder of the band at, 80, was the crowd favorite. Gabriel was born in New Orleans, but he spent the majority of his professional life in Detroit. Gabriel had a ball on stage ribbing his band-mates and singing and dancing.

Gabriel isn’t the greatest singer in the world, nor is the other members of the PHJB, who sang during the concert, but Gabriel is one of the finest clarinetists around. No circus tricks. He shoots straight from the hip with the accuracy of a sharpshooter.

Gabriel first played Orchestra Hall back in 1948 when it was the Paradise Theater. Four songs into the set the band had the audience’s full participation. New Orleans musicians are masterful at working a crowd. The second set was better than the first. 

This go around, the band had a chance to show their virtuosity, each hogging the spotlight for a moment. It was cheesy, but the audience ate it up. It seemed as if the band downed some swing juice concoction during the intermission. 

The band returned charged. The set began with a delicious solo from trumpeter Mark Braud, firing away like an avid big game hunter. Braud’s playing was a reminder that New Orleans has blessed the music world with some of the best trumpeters. 

For the third number everybody cleared the stage but pianist Rickie Monie. The concert was billed as a Christmas special; during the opening set the band only performed one Christmas number. Monie played a medley of Christmas songs. Gabriel and Ben Jaffe followed with a clarinet and a tuba duet. Then the other members rejoined the party. 

If nothing else, New Orleans’ jazz bands and musicians know how to put on a party. They had the audience worked up and sweaty.  By the end of the concert there wasn’t a dry armpit in the building. You would’ve thought, given the audience's condition, they had completed a 10k run.