Sunday, September 22, 2013


This is Imer Santiago’s first album as a bandleader. And he heaped a lot on his plate. The jazz trumpeter is, 37, a native of Ohio and was educated at the University of Ohio and the University of New Orleans. He built his name in Nashville where he is a key player. “Hidden Journey,” due out the 24th of September on Jazz Music City-based in Nashville-is a mix of blues, post-bop and Latin Jazz.

The album epitomizes what is happening on Nashville’s growing jazz scene. The album is loaded with guest spots from some of the city’s top jazz musicians. Trumpeter Rod McGaha and saxophonist Rahsaan Barber are probably the most well-known. Santiago did not use this first outing as a dry run. He went all out, and it paid off.

“Hidden Journey” works in part because of the excellent production work of Rahsaan Barber, the owner of Jazz Music City. Santiago and Barber co-arranged the 11 cuts on “Hidden Journey”. It appears Santiago and Barber locked themselves in a studio and vowed not to leave until they had made a flawless album. If that was their goal, they achieved it because this album is free of any imperfections.

Santiago blew the safe door open on “Girls’ Night Out,” a blues he wrote. On it, he played as if he took pointers from drummer Art Blakey’s how-to-swing-playbook. That cut is followed by two other destroyers “Fourthcoming,” and “Flat 2176”. 

After the third cut, you have to turn off the album to catch your breath. Yes, it is that highly charged. But you will not want to keep it off for long. Santiago is a gifted and a self-assured trumpeter. “Hidden Journey” is a superior jazz album you would expect from a veteran session leader not a first-timer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Chances are saxophonist Kenny Garrett will claim his forthcoming album “pushing the world away,” his  seventeenth overall and third for Mack Avenue Records, is not another tribute album. It sure as hell sounds like one. That is perfectly fine because Garrett makes wonderful tribute albums. “Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane” and “Sketches of MD Live at the Iridium” are two gems in his body of work. “pushing the world away,” due out nationwide September 17th is not a nod to any particular jazz musician.

Garrett wrote songs for some of his idols such as Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, and Chucho Valdez. On the album Garrett is the same ball-busting, swing crazed saxophonist his fan base adores. On “Brother Brown,” a nod to the album’s producer Donald Brown, one of Garrett’s longtime friends, Garrett sent his regular piano player Benito Gonzalez on a coffee and doughnut run while Garrett played piano. How is he on the instrument? It is not his natural habitat. Nonetheless he played competently. The albums prom queen is the closer “Rotation”. On it, he used two pianists Vernell Brown and Gonzalez, both gobble up the changes like freshly baked pastries.

Ahmad Jamal has made another flawless jazz album “Saturday Morning”. That is not a big surprise given the pianist has been making albums well over 50 years. Jazzbook Records let loose “Saturday Morning” the 10th of September. It has his bodacious working band the bassist Reginald Veal,  the drummer Herlin Riley and the percussionist Manolo Badrena. It’s hard to go wrong with that kind of backing. Of the 11 cuts on “Saturday Morning,” Jamal wrote seven, the others are standards. The band burned the town down on the title track “One,” which is a crowd favorite at Jamal’s live shows. This album’s odds on favorites are “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” and “I’m In The Mood For Love”. There is nothing like hearing Jamal gussying up the old standards.

Wilford Brimley is a known character actor who has performed in classic films such as “Absence of Malice” and “Cocoon,” and who has been in a shitload of television commercials. He has developed an alter ego as a jazz singer with a fondness for the great American Songbook. Brimley’s first album backed by a road-tested jazz trio is “Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio” is due out the 17th of September on Capri Records. It is pretty special for a vocalist pushing 80 with low mileage in jazz. How did Brimley hook up with the jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton?

They talked after a Hamilton concert in Vail, Co. Brimley sent Hamilton several recordings. After listening to his work, Hamilton began mulling over the trio collaborating with the actor. Hamilton and Brimley thumbed through the American Songbook, deciding on songs that suited Brimley’s thick, conversational voice. “Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio” has 15 standards some are jumpers others are slow jams. Brimley sounds best on some of the slow jams they picked  “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face,” “I Have Dream” and "This Love of Mind”. 

As for the Jeff Hamilton trio-pianist Tamir Hendleman and bassist Christopher Luty-understood Brimley has limited experience as a jazz singer. So they did not imposed unrealistic expectations on him. Neither did they go easy on him. Brimley pulled through mostly on his own merit. He is no Mel Torme or Tony Bennett but for a veteran character actor pushing 80, he sounded damn good with a big name jazz trio.

Before Blue Note Records unveils Gregory Porter’s new album “Liquid Spirit” nationwide Tuesday, the label should issue a Public Service Announcement, warning people they might get hooked on his voice immediately after listening to the album’s opener “No Love Dying”. Of course, the warning does not apply to those are already fans of his mighty baritone voice. 

Porter just has it like that. He is a freak of nature, but not an overnight sensation. He worked hard and deserves all the accolades and praise his fans and music critics have lavished on him. “Liquid Spirit” is his third album, his first debut for Blue Note. The Harlem New York based record label Motema Records put out his others “Water” and “Be Good”.

“Liquid Spirit is borderline perfect. Porter is stretched thinly performing up-tempo songs, covers and love songs. Midway through you wish he would have stuck with singing the love songs. He is at his absolute best on them. The love songs he chose for “Liquid Spirit” are not the baby-making variety but they seduce the heart. “Hey Laura” will make any woman melt and a Sumo wrestler feel all tingly inside. He gives the “Lonesome Lover” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily a thorough airbrushing. It is hard to categorize Porter because he sings many styles beautifully.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis

A week has passed since the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival. I still think about the choice performances I saw plus the ones I missed. I made some hard choices. I decided, for example, to catch the McCoy Tyner with special guest Savion Glover set instead of saxophonist Charles Lloyd featuring guitarist Bill Frisell. McCoy and Glover put on the most awe-inspired set I saw all weekend. At, 74, Tyner is still a barnburner. He pushed Glover like he used to push saxophonist John Coltrane decades ago. Wonder if Glover had to buy new feet after the set because he wore his old ones out.

There were unforgettable sets by the all-star jazz band The Cookers, vocalist Gregory Porter and, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. The Marsalis set, of the three, is the one that stuck to my ribs the longest. Marsalis loves Duke Ellington it seems more than any other iconic big band leader and composer. Marsalis played the music of “Such Sweet Thunder,” Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s shout out to Shakespeare.

Marsalis’ band shone like new hardwood floors. Drummer Winard Harper was the rhythm section's muscle, and his solos would have given a pit-bull goose bumps. I felt as if I were in a graduate seminar on Shakespeare, listening to Marsalis explain the inspiration behind each songs. On “Circle of Fourths,” Marsalis took the melody through more key and tempo changes than an erotic dancer changing costumes.

The Detroit acts were not-to-be-forgotten as well. Saxophonist James Carter blew a new hole in the Ozone during his tribute to tenor saxophonist Don Byas at the Absopure Pyramid Stage. At the J.P. Morgan Chase Main Stage, pianist Geri Allen put on a first-rate tribute to Detroit. Allen pulled the set off with drummer Karriem Riggins and bassist Robert Hurst.

Allen’s specials guests were former Detroiters trombonist George Bohanon, vocalist Sheila Jordan, and saxophonists Dave McMurray (McMurray is still a Detroiter) and JD Allen. Some of Allen’s previous Detroit oriented projects have been overcooked. But this one was cooked perfectly. The trio itself was satisfying enough.  

Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave’s "Trumpet Call" presentation was not as exciting as the "Trumpet Summit" he staged for the 2003 Detroit jazz festival where festivalgoers saw trumpeters Chris Jones, Corey Wilkes, and Sean Jones before they hit it big.  

"Trumpet Call" was worthwhile just listening to Belgrave amuse the crowd with stories about his friendships with trumpet legends Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd and Clifford Brown. Belgrave said Brown schooled him on the fine points of improvising. The standout moment of  "Trumpet Call" was Belgrave blowing on his original “Brownie Town”.

Of the Detroit acts that I saw, drummer Karriem Riggins set was the most eye-popping. The past three festivals, Riggins has presented jazz fusion projects. They were top-heavy with Detroiters, which was not a bad thing. He has an affinity for his homies. And he includes them in his projects. This time out, he hired musicians from the East Coast and the West Coast. The music Riggins spoon fed the crowd was a mix of jazz, hip hop, and techno. It comes off effortlessly and beautifully when he mixes genres. Each year, his projects have gotten tighter.

Did this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival top the 2012, which longtime attendees believed was the best in decades?  Last year’s felt more authentic, geared more toward jazz purists. Obviously, the festival’s Artistic Director, Chris Collins, aim was to expand the festivals scope, booking nontraditional jazz acts. It worked

Monday, September 2, 2013


Jazz Vocalist Gregory Porter
Sunday, was the most exciting day of concerts at the Detroit Jazz Festival so far. At the J.P. Morgan Chase Main Stage, jazz vocalist Gregory Porter kicked the crowd's ass with some of the music from his 2012 album “Be Good” and his upcoming debut for Blue Note Records “Liquid Soul”. Porter is the hottest male jazz vocalist on earth right now with a mighty and a gorgeous baritone voice. On top of that, Porter has the stage presence of a hypnotist.

During his set, Porter put the men on the spot that have been in long relationships.“It times for you guys to lock it down,” Porter joked. Then he sang a version of “Good Hands” that would have melted a bear’s heart. One memorable moment was the protest song Porter belted about the Detroit riot that featured Detroit saxophonists Vincent Bowen and Kamau Kenyatta, Porter’s mentor. It was Porter’s debut at the Detroit Jazz Festival. It would be an injustice if he were not invited back.

At the Absopure Pyramid Stage, popular Detroit saxophonist James Carter paid tribute to the swing era saxophonist Don Byas. Last year, Carter purchased and reconditioned the tenor sax Don Byas played from 1950 to 1962. It was the same sax Byas used, according to Carter, to mop the floor with Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz in a tenor sax battle in Europe.Carter is a master at pulling off tribute projects. 

His tributes to guitarist Django Reinhardt “Chasin' the Gypsy” and Billie Holidays “Gardenias for Lady Day” are two of his finest works. Carter played the Byas set with his longstanding band veteran hell-raisers pianist Gerard Gibbs, drummer Leonard King and bassist Ralphe Armstrong.

After Carter explained his fondness for Don Byas, the band jumped into two of Byas’ well-known tunes “1944 Stomp” and “Free and Easy”. Carter blew until he ran out of ideas on the latter tune. The winner of the Detroit Jazz Festival Trumpet Competition, Theo Croker was a special guest. On the standard “Star Dust,” the veterans put the zoom lens on him, and he did not choke.  

Later Sunday evening drummer Karriem Riggins, another popular Detroiter had  bodies sweaty at the Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage. The style of music Riggins is into currently is hard to classify. The past three festivals Riggins—who has worked with Mulgrew Miller, Ray Brown, Diana Krall, and who moonlights as a hip hop  DJ and producer—has presented some experimental projects.

The projects included some of Riggins' Detroit peers plus featured known hip-hop acts like Slum Village, Pete Rock and Common. This time out, Riggins’ shipped in musicians from New York, California, and Philadelphia. The music they performed was a mix of hip-hop, techno and bits and pieces of jazz. Nothing resembling the pure jazz that Riggins was raised on. But the music was danceable and sure as hell sounded good.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Pianist McCoy Tyner
The 74-year-old jazz pianist McCoy Tyner walked on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage at the Detroit Jazz Fest Saturday to an ovation deserving of a jazz musician of his stature. During his hour plus set with tap dancer Savion Glover, Tyner channeled the energy he possessed decades ago backing saxophonist John Coltrane. Tyner’s aggressive style was in mint condition like on some of the classic albums he made for Impulse Records.

Tyner’s set lived up to its high billing. Before Tyner called up Glover, his trio had the crowd juiced and the stage hot as French fry grease. The trio and Glover clicked immediately. Tyner and Glover traded like tenor saxophonists in an old-school cutting contest. In all the years I have covered the Detroit Jazz Festival, I never witnessed the crowd go completely nuts midway through each number. Glover was tap dancing so fast I thought his tap-shoes were going to catch fire.

I lost count of the ovations Glover received. After the third number, the drummer, the bassist  and Glover left the stage. I figured to give his feet a must needed coffee break. Tyner played solo, settling down the crowd with a ballad played lovingly like the ballads he performed on his album “Nights of Ballads and Blues”. The performance was the most exciting performance I have experience at the Detroit Jazz Festival in years.

Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant set at the Amphitheater was also highly anticipated. It followed Tyner’s performance.  In 2010, Salvant won the Thelonious Monk International Vocalist Competition. Since the win, she has received a lot of good press. “Woman Child,” her debut for Mack Avenue Records is glorious. It is the best jazz album by a vocalist I have experienced so far this year. I’m a fan of Salvant. It pains me to write her performance with the David Berger Jazz Orchestra was stiff.     

Berger is a seasoned arranger. He wrote the arrangements for the performance. It was Salvant’s first shot at an international jazz festival performing with an orchestra. Frankly, she seemed as if she could not get into the arrangements. I wondered if headlining an international jazz festival this early in her career was too much of an undertaking. At age 23, she has not accumulated a  lot of frequent flier miles as a bandleader or as a headliner. And her inexperience showed.