Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Far back as jazz vocalist Ed Reed can recall, he looked up to Nat King Cole. Reed, a native of California, was drawn to Cole's sophistication and his unique voice. Reed dreamed of making an album of songs Cole popularized. Reed is 84 and a recovering drug addict. It took him a long time to get his career going. 

For decades, Reed was a heroin addict. And he was in and out of San Quentin State Prison for various crimes. In San Quentin he sang in a 17 piece orchestra known as the Warden’s Band. The great jazz alto saxophonist Art Pepper was in that band.

In the mid-80’s Reed hit rock bottom, checked into rehab, and cleaned up. When he got his act together, his music career took off. He put out three albums, and became a Bay Area sensation. November 8th, Blue Shorts Record releases I’m a shy guy: A Tribute to the King Cole Trio & Their Music. It is a fabulous follow up to Reed’s 2011 album Born to Be Blue. 

Reed treats unforgettable, Meet Me At No Special Place, and I Realize Now with the utmost respect. He takes his own sweet time with each song instead of hurrying through them like he is on curfew.

The best remake on the album  is I’m Lost, which he performs with bassist John Wiitala. Reed is a pure vocalist who does not have to resort to any unnecessary scatting to win over listeners. He took a bunch of oldies scrubbed the mildew off them. And had a blast remodeling them. Although Reed worships Cole he never tried to copy his style. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Alto saxophonist Antonio Hart
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, which may explain the low attendance for the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra's concert at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit. The orchestra was directed by Detroit bassist Rodney Whitaker, who runs the MSU’s Jazz Studies department. The concert was the last stop of a four city tour sponsored by the Michigan State Federal Credit Union, which recently gave the department a million dollar grant.

The grant will be used for the department's artist-in-residence program. Whitaker said the acclaimed jazz musicians will be brought in for a week long residency that includes a tour with MSU's jazz orchestra throughout Michigan. 

First up was alto saxophonist Antonio Hart. Hart, 45, a native of Baltimore, has cut a bunch of excellent albums such as “Here I Stand” and “Its All Good”. His sound is a mix of bop, swing and the blues. There’s a spiritual quality to the way he plays a ballad. To date, some of his best blowing has been with the Dave Holland Big Band.

As the artist-in-residence, Hart taught a series of master classes and performed with the MSU Jazz Orchestra in Lansing, Byron Center, Holland, and Detroit. Trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Jeff Hamilton are coming in December. Next year, Whitaker is looking to bring in Christian McBride, Sean Jones, and Robert Glasper.

The diehard jazz fans that showed up despite the lousy weather were treated to an hour plus of swing from one of Michigan’s top college jazz orchestras. The first half of the concert the orchestra performed “A Night in Tunisia, “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me,” and “Groove Merchant”. The second half Hart joined in.  

On Hart’s original “Down and Out,” he grabbed it by the shirt collar and gave it a Sam’s Club size ass kicking. The MSU Jazz Orchestra handled Hart’s music like champions. They swung below sea level and did not come up for air until Hart called the ballad “Stars Fell Over Alabama”.

There was choice soloing from alto saxophonist Jerrick Mathews, trumpeter Walter Andre’ Cano, and bassist Endea Owens. Despite the low attendance, the orchestra played their hearts out. The orchestra's mantra appears to be swing hard whether the house is empty or at capacity.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Joye Calderazzo, Eric Revis, Branford Marsalis, and Justin Faulkner
Midway through “Teo,” the third tune the Branford Marsalis Quartet played Friday evening at the Paradise Valley Jazz Series in Detroit, I was convinced the quartet was the series' best opening act in years. The quartet have been together for 15 years. That might explain why pianist Joey Calderazzo's, bassist Eric Revis', and Justin Faulkner's musical psyches are interlocked.  

The hour and 45 minute concert was the most spellbinding I have witnessed all the years I have covered the jazz series. That is worth noting because some of the series’ previous opening acts were Cassandra Wilson, Stanley Clarke, Sonny Rollins and Ramsey Lewis. Each put on memorable concerts.  

Before trumpeter Terence Blanchard introduced the quartet, he credited Detroit for having the most intelligent jazz audience he has performed for. Then he shared some memories of his lifelong friendship with Marsalis, recalling when they were kids in music camp together horsing around instead of practicing. I took that as Blanchard and Marsalis were so musically advanced as kids they did not need much practicing.

After sharing that bit of their history, Blanchard introduced the quartet. A few days ago, they had returned from a tour in Taiwan. Marsalis kidded about how it was the first time the band has seen the sunlight in days. An avid baseball fan Marsalis spoke glowingly about the Detroit Tigers and their ace Justin Verlander. That was it for the pleasantries.

Joey Calderazzo and Marsalis toyed with the melody of the first tune “Endymion” before launching a full-blown attack that lasted the entire concert. Calderazzo is a jazz pianist with a bottomless imagination. Frankly, he is also the heart of the quartet. If Marsalis wanted to take a sabbatical, Calderazzo could competently run things. In fact, at various moments of the concert, it sounded as if the quartet was his baby.  

Marsalis likes to play a lot of notes. On “The Mighty Sword,” he played every note available to a musician. He bent notes, stretched them like slingshots, picked them apart and reassemble them piece by piece. All night long, his blowing was a thing of beauty.

Save for two tunes, the quartet played extended versions of the music from their brilliant 2012 album “Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes”. That album marked the first time drummer Justin Faulkner, who took over for Jeff “Tain” Watts three years ago, recorded with the quartet. I caught Faulkner with the quartet at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival. Back then, he was a tad cautious but exuded promise. He has proven to be a wise hire. 

Throughout the concert, he resembled Watts when Watts was the quartet’s muscle. Faulkner was brash, animated, and too aggressive at times. On the encore, “Return of the Jitney Man,” Faulkner beat the drums like a disgruntled employee. And the audience ate it up.

A  memorable highlight was Blanchard joining the quartet to play Irvin Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”. In May, Blanchard put out “Magnetic” one of his finest albums.  And this month, he is on the cover of Jazz Times. 

On Berlin’s classic, Blanchard was fiery. The flames from his trumpet could have singed the eyebrows of the people seated up high in the cheap seats. By concert end, I was certain the Branford Marsalis Quartet is the tightest most engaging jazz quartet I have heard. What a fitting way to open the Paradise Jazz Series.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


don’t be that way  Dave Bennett (Mack Avenue Records)

“don’t be that way” is the impeccable and rousing debut album from jazz clarinetist Dave Bennett, coming out on Mack Avenue Records the 15th of October. Bennett, 34, is a former member of the Hot Club of Detroit. The Pontiac, MI native is a self-taught jazz musician, which is hard to believe because he plays the clarinet as if he invented the damn thing.

As far back as Bennett recalls, he looked up to the swing era clarinetist and big bandleader Benny Goodman. Bennett opens “don’t be that way” with Goodman’s “Slipped Disc,” stumping through the changes as if his feet is on fire. Understand this Bennett is in no way a Benny Goodman copycat.  On “don’t be that way,” he plays the blues, swing, and even barrelhouse Boogie-Woogie with equal proficiency.

The album is filled with jalopies such as “St. James Infirmary” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” that Bennett gives overdue oil changes. The album rocks primarily because Bennett put together a heavenly rhythm section drummer Pete Siers, bassist Paul Keller, and pianist Tad Weed. Those who follow Detroit jazz know Siers, Keller, and Weed are key figures who have blessed every album they have performed on.

Four Directions  Marc Cary Focus Trio (Motema)

This is the jazz pianist Marc Cary’s second album this year. June the 11th, Motema Records released Cary’s exceptional solo album “For The Love of Abbey,” dedicated to his mentor the late jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln. Cary’s Focus Trio—drummer Sameer Gupta and bassist Burniss Earl Travis II and Rashaan Carter who occasionally subs for Travis II—have been together going on a decade.

Cary’s trio is heavily into experimentation as shown on their 2009 live album “Focus Trio Live”. On it, the trio played tunes that had excerpts of speeches from human right activists Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. Bank on something special when Cary’s trio puts out an album. The music on “Four Directions,” which comes out nationwide the 8th of October, is a mix of aggressive post-bop with African and Indian inspired rhythms.

Cary brought all his toys to the party. He plays an Ultra Nova Synthesizer, the Fender Rhodes and the Wurlitzer. The soul-stirring cuts are “Boom” “Indigenous,” and “Waltz Betty Waltz”. The latter is a Waltz that Cary wrote to honor one of his idols vocalist Betty Carter. “Four Directions” shows how tight-knit and imaginative Cary’s trio continues to be.

live in nyc  Gretchen Parlato (Obliq Sound)

I caught the jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato’s show at the Paradise Jazz Series in Detroit in 2011. That jazz series attracts jazz conservatives. And Parlato’s neo-soul tinged brand of jazz did not fly. I was disappointed. I have always adored Parlato’s modern style and soothing voice. I implored my friends to get her last album “The Lost and Found”.

 Not until I played her forthcoming album for Obliq Sound “live in nyc,” did I understand Parlato is a vocalist who feeds off her audience. “live in nyc” was recorded at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall, and the audience there showed Parlato a lot of love.

“live in nyc” is a hell of a live date. Parlato sings material from her studio albums such as “All That I Can Say,” and “Holding Back the Years”. The standout on “live in nyc” is the cover of “Weak” by the 90’s R&B group SWV. On it, Parlato is so alluring and sexy a man-of-the-cloth would toss his underwear on the stage without hesitation. The album is due out the 8th of October.

Bella Napoli  Gary Smulyan and Dominic Chianese (Capri Records)

Dominic Chianese is a damn good part-time jazz vocalist. If you don’t recognize that name, Chianese is best known as the actor who portrayed the sociopathic figurehead New Jersey mob boss, Uncle Junior, on the hit HBO series the Sopranos. Chianese loves Neapolitan classic songs. So does the jazz baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan.

The most casual observers of jazz know about Smulyan’s billing as the top baritone sax player on earth right now. He has earned that billing brick by brick. He plays in a number of popular big bands, which explains why his tone on the baritone could fill up a gas tanker truck.

Smulyan is the closest in curb appeal to the great baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams the jazz world has set eyes on in a years. For “Bella Napoli” Smulyan and Chianese teamed up and made an album of their favorite Neapolitan songs.  

On “Bella Napoli,” out October 15th, Smulyan struck a balance. Half of the album is, Smulyan jamming with his current band Matt Wilson, Martin Wind, and Joseph Brent. The other half of the album the band accompanies Chianese. His voice is gorgeous and strong. It locks in perfectly with Smulyan’s band. The track that captures Chianses’ range is “Santa Lucia Lontana”. On paper, Smulyan teaming up with a fictional mob boss seems odd, but Smulyan pulled it off.