Saturday, March 30, 2013


The Monterey Jazz Festival Band

As a jazz reporter, I've experienced my share of all-star jazz bands that fail to rise to their billing. In theory the star powered bands work, but in reality there’re often disappointing. The Monterey Jazz Festival band—Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter, Benny Green, Lewis Nash and Ambrose Akinmusire—is an all-star band the works theoretically and in reality. 

They proved that much song after song Thursday evening during their concert at Orchestra Hall in midtown Detroit. Whoever thought to put those jazz musicians in the same band knew what they’re doing. 

The two-hour concert opened with a cute duet with McBride and Bridgewater. They flirted with each other like puppy-love struck teens before they performed Billie Holiday’s number “My Mother’s Son-in-Law”. 

McBride and Bridgewater proved to be a likable couple on McBride’s 2010 album “Conversations with Christian”. Bridgewater knows how to work a stage. She normally does it with sexual innuendo that would offend many churchgoers. 

To Bridgewater's credit the innuendo works. Her audience enjoys the teasing although it can be annoying at times. Bridgewater's voice was lovely, and she provided some comic relief. After the Holiday number ended and the near capacity audience was sufficiently buttered up, McBride introduced the rest of the band. 

Akinmusire, the youngest member was the butt of McBride’s jokes. The trumpeter, who shared his gift with the jazz world on his Blue Note debut “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” took the ribbing in stride and played until his ass caught fire. 

The band served up outstanding versions of “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Shades of the Cedar Tree” and “ Tango”. All the members had their moments in the sun. Hands down, Green was the MVP. Green is a physical piano player. 

While playing he twisted his body like a college wrestler. Green is an unsung swinger with a body of work to prove it. All night he played like the devil possessed his fingers, especially on another Holiday favorite “God Bless the Child”. 

Between numbers some members talked about the history of the Monterey Jazz Festival, and how they figured into it. McBride is the official leader of the band, but Bridgewater behaved at times like she was the boss. 

Obviously, Bridgewater isn’t used to playing second fiddle to anyone even a musician of McBride’s accomplishments. McBride and the others were unfazed when Bridgewater hogged the spotlight. I think the audience figured it was Dee Dee being a diva. Bridgewater can be a ham. 

But undeniably, she’s one of the top jazz singers working. I’ve attended a half-dozen of her concerts. I’ve never left disappointed. She’s the consummate show-woman. But sometimes her antics and the sexual innuendo are overkill. Unlike too many all-star bands the Monterey Jazz Festival band works in theory, but most importantly it works in reality.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Sean Dobbins

The jazz drummer Sean Dobbins has a lot of irons in the fire lately. He works regularly with his quintet the Modern Jazz Messengers, makes the rounds with his longstanding trio, holds the drum chair in the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, and makes music for the new Mack Avenue Records imprint the Detroit Music Factory. When he isn't clubbing or in the studio. he teaches at a couple of colleges, and he runs the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic Jazz program.

His debut “Blue Horizons” was released independently in 2009. The Mack Avenue imprint will reissue it in  April. If all that isn’t enough early this week he premiered his new organ quartet at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. The band has a week long run there.

 He favors the hard-bop branch of jazz. So, it’s refreshing to see him in a more soulful and funk driven light. Organ player Chris Codish, guitar player Ralph Tope and sax player Marcus Elliot is the core of the band.    

I caught the set Thursday night. The band was above par. I was surprised how well the band connected. Codish and Tope gave the band its funkiness. Codish has been a marquee voice on the organ for many years now. Tope is a magician on the guitar. But  it was the excellent play of Elliot that propelled the band. 

The tenor sax has a lineage. I could hear some of it when Elliot soloed. On "Tenderly" and "So What," he sounded like a cross between saxophone players Joe Henderson and Donald Walden. Pure sax magic.  

Surprisingly, Dobbins’ chose to perform mostly standards instead of cuts from "Blue Horizons". I was a little disappointed. I've been playing  the album nightly the past month. So, I hoped he'd call a few numbers. Of course, there's the likelihood he will over the weekend. 

He should take this band into the studio fast. Each member is in high demand and they have their own pet projects. So, it'll be difficult keeping this band together. 

Over the years, Dobbins has matured into a great bandleader. Early in his career, he was a big time ham desirous of the spotlight. But he was always a joy to experience.  He leaves the showboating to youngsters in his outfits now. Dobbins can still be lively and colorful at times. Now, he's mostly business. 

The great thing about his new band is he can cut loose if he so desires. He did so only a few times Thursday evening. There aren’t many chances to cut loose in his other bands. He’s too busy being the guiding light. 

It’ll be interesting to see his new band after the band has worked regularly. That'll be challenging enough. Each member is a bandleader and is involved with other projects. Holding on to them may prove impossible. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Duke Ellington
Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore in downtown Detroit, Mr. Ellington, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra launched the first of a series of pre-festival concerts, performing your 1943 work “Black, Brown and Beige”. The DJFO is made up of 15 of Detroit’s top jazz musicians. I won't mention all of them. Dwight Adams and Johnny Trudell were the hierarchy of the trumpet section. Ed Gooch and Denzel Donald were the potatoes and gravy of the trombone section. Chris Collins, who runs the jazz fest, rounded out the sax section. 

Piano player Buddy Budson, bass player Marion Hayden and drummer Sean Dobbins shouldered the manual laborer. David Berger, a master of your work conducted, sax player James Carter and singers Alice McAllister Tillman and Shahida Nurullah were the guest soloists. Mr. Ellington, each brought their A-plus game. If you have a few moments, I’ll recap the concert.

It began 15 minutes late, which is uncommon. Detroit jazz musicians are known to start on time. Anyway, the orchestra opened the first set with your “Rockin' In Rhythm, “East St. Louis Toodle-oo 55,” “Oclupaca,” and “Happy Reunion”. Berger talked about the making of each number. Berger also shared funny stories about your band mates. Stories I’m sure no one in the audience knew. The orchestra covered much ground, and it never got carried away. They kept things respectable. 

There’re many four star solos. Trumpeter Walter White, a fire-breather like Lee Morgan, had several. James Carter showed out on “Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue”. I believe most of the people showed up to see if Carter could match Paul Gonsalves 26 choruses. I can’t proclaim for sure Carter achieved that, but Carter blew until he ran out of ideas. At one point, Mr. Ellington, I swear, I believed Carter’s horn was going to blow up in his hands. I even covered my face so I wouldn’t get hit with any fragments. I knew Carter was going to show out. 

My favorite moments were Nurullah’s take of “Solitude” and Tillman’s of “Creole Love Call,” which received the first standing ovation. What pure voices they own. Nurullah sounded like a cross of Fitzgerald and Vaughn. Mr. Ellington the first set was a teaser. 

There’s a 15 minute break. Then the DJFO performed “Black, Brown, and Beige”. The worse thing I can point out about the performance was the orchestra seemed afraid to stretch out, to take any calculated chances. But then I realized the challenge was to perform the music as you originally conceived it. That the DJFO accomplished.

This work, which I read you only performed six times after it premiered at Carnegie Hall touched on the history of the African-American struggles in this country. My favorites sections were “Come Sunday,” “The Blues” and “Things Ain’t What They used To Be. The orchestra closed the concert with the latter. All told, Mr. Ellington, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra was excellent, handling one of your major works with the love and care of a parent a newborn.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Tommy Flanagan Jaki Byard The Magic 2 Live at Keystone Korner (Resonance Records)
In 1982, jazz pianists Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard came together for a one night duo piano show at a happening jazz spot in San Francisco called Keystone Korner. If nothing else bringing the two jazz luminaries together proved the person who booked talent for the club wasn’t afraid to think outside the box. It was an odd pairing no doubt. Flanagan’s and Byard’s styles are different than night and day. Flanagan was an elegant conservative who performed with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Sonny Rollins. 

Byard was a gunslinger versed in every kind of African-American music and he partnered during his career with many of the kings of free-jazz such as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin. So on paper pairing the two could’ve been a disaster. But the booker at Keystone Korner banking on this pairing to be one of the most exciting in the history of jazz worked out. On this album “Tommy Flanagan Jaki Byard The Magic of 2 Live at Keystone Korner, was recorded live, and will be released for the first time on 

April 9th by Resonance Records, the pianists took some old standards out of storage and on a road trip. The album, which comes with a 24 page booklet, opens with “Scrapple from the Apple,” a Charlie Parker number. Then Flanagan and Byard stop by Ellington’s and Tad Dameron’s place before ending their road trip with Miles Davis’ “The Theme”. The album has 12 cuts. On six of them the pianists play together. Then they perform solo on three cuts each. Soloing their individuality shines. As a duo, their different styles never clash.

Robert Hurst Bob a palindrome (Bebob Music)
“Bob a palindrome” is jazz bassist Robert Hurst’s sixth studio recording and his best yet. That’s a big deal. In 2010, Hurst released two masterworks “Bob Ya Head” and “Unrehursted Volume 2”. Honestly, no one was banking on another major work from Hurst for a while. Those excellent contributions to the jazz cannon gave Hurst immunity. But Hurst isn’t the brand of jazz musician who depends on his laurels. 

The core of Hurst’s band on “Bob a palindrome” is the pianist Robert Glasper and the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts who have proven over time to be Hurst’s kindred comrades. There’re a handful of special guests here trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Bennie Maupin. It’s impossible to do anything short of astounding with that kind of firepower. Hurst understands that and he got a lot of mileage from the band. Hurst isn’t just the best jazz bassist on earth right now. 

Hurst is also a killer composer. Something he’s never received credit for. On this album more than his others, Hurst’s composing is the focal point. All 10 cuts here are award worthy, but the best is the three suite movement “Middle Passage Suite: Part I For Those of Us Who Made It, Part II For Those of Us Who Didn’t Make it, Part III For Those of Us Still Here. The last movement is 12 plus minutes of prime choice swing.

John Medeski A Different Time ( OKeh)
There’re two sides to jazz pianist John Medeski the groove monger who’s the heart and soul of the ball-busting jazz trio Medeski, Martin, and Woods, and there's the deep thinking jazz musician which his fans rarely see. The latter is what Medeski’s fans will get when his first solo piano album “A Different Time” drops April 9th on Okeh, a division of Sony Music. 

"A Different Time," is an outstanding compared to other solo jazz piano albums out there. It appears Medeski designed “A Different Time” to showcase his mad skills, which honestly has never been in question. Medeski is a groove driven swinger at heart. This album of originals is a deep thinker’s odyssey. The funny thing is making this kind of music seems natural to Medeski as breathing and as sleeping.