Monday, March 31, 2014


Wynton Marsalis
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Sunday afternoon show at Hill Auditorium was its 17th and continues to be one of the more highly anticipated of UMS Jazz Series. Arguably, the JLC is the top jazz orchestra working and their shows are full of swing, surprises, and of course Duke Ellington’s music. It wouldn’t be an authentic JLC show without Wynton Marsalis drawing from the Ellington songbooks.

This time out, Marsalis didn’t open with Ellington’s music. He opened with eight members of the orchestra tearing through a Buddy Bolden jumper and rolling through Jelly Roll Morton’s Smoke House Blues and Dead Man Blues. I attend the JLC shows when they play UMS Jazz Series.

This year was the first time the Marsalis was out front playing and soloing like mad. Normally, Marsalis is in the trumpet section calling tunes while the featured players manage most of the workload. Marsalis sounded fit and imaginative. It was exciting seeing him open up.

Marsalis remains one of the finest jazz trumpeters out there. That’s big because there’re talented and hungry trumpeters out there such as Jeremy Pelt, Terell Stafford and Sean Jones. Marsalis doesn’t get any love from critic polls these days. Besides being the top spokesperson of the music, Marsalis is a wonderful jazz educator.

He prefaced each song with a history lesson about the making and importance of the song. So you felt as if you’re attending a jazz concert and a course in jazz history. After the eight members worked up the audience, Marsalis brought out the other members. 

Then he called three Ellington favorites from different eras of his career. For example, Marsalis opened with a number Ellington wrote in the early 70’s. Then the orchestra worked their way south playing an Ellington song from the 30’s and one from the 40’s.

After playing Ellington’s music, the orchestra wolfed down Kenny Burrell’s Layresto like vegetarians fresh fruit. Surprisingly, giving all the New Orleans and Ellington music the orchestra played the best number the orchestra played was Its Not Easy Being Green, which Ali Jackson arranged.

Jackson is a longstanding member of the orchestra, and he holds down the drum chair, the most demanding spot in the orchestra. Jackson had the most kick-ass solo on Dead Man Blues that many audience members probably were still thinking about over breakfast this morning.

For two solid hours the JLC did what it does best that’s keeping Duke Ellington’s, Buddy Bolden’s and Jelly Roll Morton’s music young and in the public eye.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Pianist Orrin Evans
When jazz pianist Orrin Evans has played Detroit, he’s always been part of a popular jazz band. Evans played the Detroit Jazz Festival with trumpeter Sean Jones, and at a few local jazz clubs around Detroit with jazz drummer Ralph Peterson. At the 2013 Detroit jazz fest, Evans was a key member of drummer Karriem Riggins' band, which had one of the best sets.

At each concert, Evans showed he was a jazz pianist with a bottomless imagination. The New Jersey native was part of the same generation of star jazz pianists as Cyrus Chestnut and Jason Moran, but Evans is not a household name as they are.

That’s not a blow against Evans because he’s been putting in work. He’s earned two Grammy nods, and he’s made 20 albums. Two new releases are due this year.

At the Jazz Café Thursday night, Evans for the first time played Detroit, which he considers his adopted hometown, with his trio drummer Chris Beck and bassist Madison Rast. 

The trio fancy standards and the trio is OK with stretching them to where the standards are almost unrecognizable. The trio played extended and imaginative remixes of How High the Moon, All Blue, and I Want to be Happy, stripping each bare like kitchen cabinets then applying fresh coats of varnish.

Beck was the most high-strung member. He’s pushy like Elvin Jones was. Beck makes his band-mates work as if they have something to prove. At this stage of their careers, their reputations are bulletproof, and they don’t have anything to prove. But, neither Rast nor Evans seemed bothered by how hard Beck pushed them.

My favorite was how the trio stretched out on Beck’s original Hodgepodge. Flames rushed from the piano when Evans soloed. What’s neat about Evans is he plays the music as a life-long student, as if there’s always new discoveries. Each number the trio played qualified for  highlight reels. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


Saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky
Jazz concert promoters Andrew and Diane Rothman began the Detroit Groove Society home concert series 10 years ago. Many top jazz musicians such as Danilo Perez, Cedar Walton, and Geri Allen have played the series. There are several jazz series around Detroit that also book top national jazz musicians.The DGS series is different. You hear musicians in the quiet of the Rothman’s living room, and you can mingle with the musicians between sets. 

At the other series, the musicians are hard to get to. You have to stand in a long line to get an autograph. Not at the DGS series. Last year, the DGS took a break. The series averaged four concerts per year, and had been going strong 10 years. 

Sunday afternoon, the DGS restarted the series with an outstanding concert from Russian born alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky, featuring guitarist Randy Napoleon. Much of last week, the pair performed around Detroit with bassist Paul Keller and drummer Sean Dobbins. Not a bad pickup band. The band sounded as if they have toured together for years.

Baevsky moved to New York from Russia in 1995, and since he has made quite the name, putting out three good albums The Composers, Down With It, and Introducing Dmitry Baevsky. His style is like the great Art Pepper, particularly when Baevsky races through up-tempo bebop tunes. He called several Bud Powell numbers Sunday, which the band had a blast navigating.

The concert opened with a hard bop burner Circus straight from the Jazz Messenger’s songbook, followed by Benny Golson’s Fair Weather. The band stuck with bebop and hard bop tunes throughout. There were breathtaking takes of cuts by Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath and Tadd Dameron.

Baevsky told the crowd he wanted to team with Napoleon for years, and it finally happened recently. He did not let on if they plan to make an album. It would be criminal if they did not make at least one.

Napoleon’s style is a nice contrast to Baevsky’s way of working through chord changes. Although Napoleon has enough chops to fill up an auto supply warehouse, he carries on like an accompanist. 

Napoleon graduated from the University of Michigan, played with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and he has been Freddy Coles go to guy for seven years.

Baevsky and Napoleon were the headliners Sunday, but Keller and Dobbins were the crowd favorites. Their solos tickled and excited the crowd. They played throughout like kids happy to be home from school on a snow day.

In the past, the DGS has favored jazz pianist. Andrew is a pretty good closet jazz pianist, so his strong like for pianists is understandable. The series was set to restart with a solo set from pianist Fred Hersch, but that didn’t work out. Booking Baevsky was a damn good plan B to ge the DGS running again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Terence Blanchard
The Paradise Jazz Series at Orchestra Hall draws a conservative crowd. No one understands that better than the jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard does. He helped book two strong seasons. The Paradise Jazz crowd can be disinterested if the music isn’t straight ahead acoustic jazz or some form of bop. Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato received a cold reception when she performed neo-soul tinged jazz at the series two years ago.

Blanchard played the fourth concert of the 2013-2014 series Saturday night with his young band drummer Justin Brown, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Joshua Crumbly, and saxophonist Brice Winton. Blanchard’s special guests were saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke.

Last year, Blanchard cut a wonderful jazz fusion album Magnetic. His band performed cuts from the album. When Blanchard said his band would play cuts from the album, I was worried the music would be too experimental and hip for the conservative audience. I was wrong.

Blanchard played many of the album’s lighter cuts and a few standards. The wildest the band got was Hallucinations, a jazz fusion cut evocative of Miles Davis's fusion era work. I thought the cut would frighten the audience, but the audience took to it like a newborn to breast milk. 

Blanchard has a young band, and he isn’t the kind of boss who expects the youngsters to do all the manual labor. He got his hands and work boots dirty, too. It was exhilarating the things he did on the trumpet. 

The concert’s downer was Ravi Coltrane playing was difficult to hear. In 2012, he put out his debut for Blue Note Records Spirit Fiction. Many jazz critics agreed the album was Coltrane's best. Sadly, last night Coltrane was little more than a stage prop. In all the years I’ve supported the Paradise Jazz Series, malfunctioning microphones have never been an issue.  

Blanchard never allowed things to get out of hand musically. Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song, which closed the concert and pianist Fabian Almazan wrote, was the concert’s best moment. Blanchard could’ve pushed the band and himself to let their hair down more. 

Blanchard understands the Paradise Jazz audience and it seemed he opted to keep things clean and respectable. The concert wasn’t the best of this series. So far, the Branford Marsalis concert was, and pianist McCoy Tyner’s and Eddie Palmieri’s concerts are upcoming.