Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Pianist Geri Allen

The biggest shortcoming of the From Cass Corridor to the World: A Tribute to Detroit’s Musical Golden Years concert Monday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan was pianist Geri Allen, its musical director, never explained the importance of Cass Corridor as it related to Detroit’s vast jazz history. Not one word from any of the special guests about how the Northwest side neighborhood—once a haven for drugs and for prostitution—impacted Detroit’ jazz community.

From the start, Allen informed the packed auditorium there’d be little talking. There was too much music to get to. The concert went on for nearly three plus hours, and although it brimmed with highlights, I was full midway. The star-studded get together, at times, felt as if Allen crammed four concerts into one. Detroit jazz musicians know how to put on an elaborate production, but they haven’t mastered editing. That’s what the concert needed desperately.

The first set opened with a salute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Professor George Shirley read King’s “On the Importance of Jazz,” speech that King gave at the Berlin Jazz Festival. It wasn’t one of his best. Besides, I founded it unbelievable King was a jazz fan.

As Shirley read King’s words, I tried to picture him checking out some Charlie Parker albums in his study late at night after Coretta and the kids were sleep. I had King pegged as a gospel fan. I never imagined he was into Dexter Gordon and Ornette Coleman or King had a serious jazz record collection.

After Shirley finished the speech, he joined the University of Michigan’s Day Choir and they sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” one of King’s favorite spirituals. Then singers Shahida Nurullah, Joan Belgrave, Ursula Walker and Naima Shamboroguer joined the choir for a selection. The singers performed the horn parts of "I Have A Dream" from pianist Herbie Hancock's last album for Blue Note Records "The Prisoner".

After the singers left the stage, a tribute to saxophonist Yusef Lateef and drummer Roy Brooks followed, which was the concert’s first highlight the drum battle between Karriem Riggins and Ali Jackson. The battle perked up the audience.

The most endearing moment of the set was the nod to trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. He's been ill lately. But he looked and sounded sharp. He was genuinely surprised when the University of Michigan presented him with the King, Chavez-Parks Visiting Professor Award.

The second half of the concert offered the most highlights, starting with a fun tribute to jazz bassist Ron Carter. Bassists Robert Hurst, Marion Hayden, and Ralphe Armstrong showed out. Next, was a kick-butt shout out to trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Harold McKinney.

McKinney's daughter, jazz drummer Gayelynn, had the honor of representing her dad. Vincent Chandler, who’s become a master trombonist, gave Fuller proper due.

It took saxophonist James Carter and organist Gerard Gibbs to hit the audience in their souls with a take of “Precious Lord” that would’ve given Jesus goose bumps. Henceforth, the concert turned into a revival. Joan Belgrave followed Carter with a beautiful gospel selection. She damn near caught the Holy Spirit on stage. 

If that wasn’t enough, the Motown Legends Gospel Choir took the concert to the streets. I never imagined some of the people who voted for Rich Snyder could catch the Holy Spirit, but the choir had everybody worked up.

The concert should’ve ended there. But there’re three rushed performances one by the original Vandellas, another by the Contours, and the last, a tribute to hip hop icon J Dilla, by a rapper named Invincible. By this point, the concert felt as if Allen was determined to let every performer get a turn at bat. Allen never put the Cass Corridor angle into context, which is forgivable because the music was so damn good, and  Allen had so much of it to navigate. But it would’ve been nice to have heard from several of the musicians about what Cass Corridor  meant to them.   

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Pianist Aaron Diehl
 Mack Avenue Records has finally committed to a street date for “The Bespoke Man’s Narrative,” jazz pianist Aaron Diehl’s much anticipated studio debut. Diehl signed with Mack Avenue in 2011 after winning the Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz Competition of the American Pianist Association.

Mack Avenue Records, a Detroit based jazz  record company, founded in 1999 has signed many leading jazz musicians such as Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, Kevin Eubanks, Sean Jones and Gerald Wilson.

"The Bespoke Man's Narrative" isn't Diehl's first outing as a session leader. He has two live albums on the market “Live at the Players,” and “Live at Caramoor,” He’s the kind of jazz pianist who can switch from sophisticated to grits and gravy easily and who can play any form of jazz adeptly as well as gospel and the blues. 

“The Bespoke Man’s Narrative,” available nationwide March 19th is Diehl's first big label album. Diehl’s fans are hunger for it. Mack Avenue scheduled the album for February 2012 but they delayed i, wanting it to correspond with a national tour. 

On the album, Diehl jams on originals such as “Generation” and “Blue Nude” and a handful of standards “Bess, You is My Woman Now” and “Single Petal of a Rose” with his smoking band Warren Wolf, Dave Wong, and Rodney Green, which is one of the  tightest bands working.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Charles Lloyd
The Dave Holland Big Band (Michigan Theater) 
Big band swim at its very best. Holland's big band proved on this night it could swing the English Channel without coming up for air.

The Charles Lloyd Quartet (Michigan Theater) Impossible to put on a shitty performance when Lloyd was flanked by the incredible pianist Jason Moran. The night was full of highlights.

Mike Jellick The Nutcracker Suite (Detroit Institute of the Arts) A colossal undertaking for Detroit's hottest jazz pianist and bandleader. He took this reworking of the classic on the dry-run this time last year. After many returns to the drawing board, Jellick finally worked out all the kinks. Before the night was in the can, the performance received three ovations.

Cassandra Wilson (Orchestra Hall) Wilson is still the baddest jazz vocalists in the game. This was a memorable outing although Wilson was forced to take an intermission, and doing so upset the groove the band swung hard to establish. At any rate, Wilson made the best of it.

Freddy Cole (The Dirty Dog Jazz Café) The epitome of an old-school balladeer and storyteller. Cole fancies love songs from the American songbook. And he rendered them as originally conceived. I could listen to Cole sing for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. 

Celebrating Women in Jazz (Max Fisher) This should be an annual concert. There were beautiful performances by pianist Ellen Rowe, bassist Marion Hayden, vocalists Joan Belgrave, Ursula Walker, and drummer Gayelynn McKinney.

Yusef Lateef Tribute (St. Matthew’s Church) One of jazz's most prolific saxophonist honored in his home town. The performance of his music and the recitations of his literary works made the 92-year-old jazz giant weep.

The Mack Avenue Super Band (The Detroit Jazz Festival) Mack Avenue Records is the hottest jazz record company around and some of the star jazz musicians Tia Fuller, Sean Jones, Rodney Whitaker, and Aaron Diehl made up the super band, which worked on paper and more so in reality.  

The Aaron Diehl Quintet (The Dirty Dog Jazz Café’) The Detroit Tigers were in the throes of a run for the World Series, so the turn out for Diehl's concert was small, but the pianist didn't allow that to stop him from putting on an excellent concert. 

Tony Lustig (Cadieux Café) Lustig has found his voice on the baritone saxophone, and he's been working steadily going on three years now in New York. Lustig's heart is still in Detroit. His annual holiday show at the Cadieux Cafe' has become a major concert. The cafe' was packed and Lustig's band which included drummer Jesse Kramer kept spirits high with his modern spin on some jazz classics.