Sunday, December 20, 2015


Jose James
Yesterday I Had The Blues The Music of Billie Holiday (Blue Note Records)
Billie Holiday would have turned 100 April 17th. In celebration of her centennial tributes concerts were thrown around the country, and some tribute albums were released. The one that I couldn’t stop playing was “Yesterday I Had The Blues” by vocalist Jose James, whose voice one day will be a national treasure. James performed such Holiday favorites as “Good Morning Hard Ache,” “Fine and Mellow,” and “God Bless The Child” so convincingly dare I speculate Holiday’s spirit was in the studio during the making of the album holding James’s hand on every song.

Perez, Patitucci, Blade
Children of The Light (Mack Avenue Records)
For almost two decades, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade have backed the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The relationship has spawned four breathtaking albums, and this band is seen universally as one of the tightest breathing. “Children Of The Light” is the first time Perez, Patitucci, and Blade have recorded as a trio. The album of nine originals and one Shorter composition is largely a gesture of appreciation to Shorter for all he’s meant to his guys musically. The playing on this album is top notch, but that isn’t surprising. One can only picture the big smile Shorter must’ve had on his face after listening to “Children of The Light.”

Glenn Tucker
Determination (Detroit Music Factory)
I was smitten by pianist Glenn Tucker’s playing after experiencing the first two tracks on this debut. Tucker is among a contingent of millennial jazz musicians making their presence respected on Detroit’s jazz scene. Tucker pulled off this debut in part by hiring several of Detroit’s elite swingers and some of Detroit’s rising stars. Tucker wrote all the music on “Determination”. The compositions he performed solo caused the most OMG reactions.

Abbey Lincoln
Sophisticated Abbey Live at The Keystone Corner (High Note Records)
This live date Abbey Lincoln made back in 1980. Lincoln was of excellent voice. She was backed by her longstanding rhythm sections James Leary, Doug Sides and Phil Wright. Lincoln had a rare gift the ability to seduce the hell out of a song. For “Sophisticated Abbey,” she applied that gift on some of her originals such as “Painted Lady,” and “People In Me”. The material I dreamt about after listening to the album was the medleys she sang that included “Sophisticated Ladies,” “The Nearest of You,” and “For All We Know”.

Heads of State
Search for Peace (Smoke Sessions Records)
Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Al Foster are the members of the newly formed all-star jazz band known as the Heads of State. “Search For Peace” is the band’s mission statement.  What this album offers to the world is some familiar compositions performed by four of the greatest minds in jazz. “Search For Peace” is the kind of album you can listen to daily for the next decade and never grow tired of.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Bird Calls (Act Music)
This album is alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s open love letter to bebop icon Charlie Parker. “Bird Calls” isn’t a garden variety tribute album. Mahanthappa elected not to perform Parker’s greatest hits. Instead, Mahanthappa borrowed elements of Parker’s compositions say the melody from “Donna Lee” and the progressions from “Relaxin’ At The Camarillo” and incorporated those elements into his new original compositions. Then Mahanthappa gave his band Adam O’Farrill, Matt Mitchell, Francois Moutin, and Rudy Royston the leeway to stretch out on each composition.

Terell Stafford
BrotherLee Love Celebration Lee Morgan (Capri Records Ltd.)
“Hocus Pocus,” “Mr. Kenyatta,” “Candy,” “Petty Larceny,” and “Speedball” are five of trumpeter Lee Morgan’s hits that trumpeter Terell Stafford stripped down to their wood surface and applied new coatings of paint. Stafford a card carrying Lee Morgan disciple pulled off a flawless tribute album, and his blowing is so inspired I wondered if Morgan’s spirit blessed Stafford’s trumpeter minutes before he recorded “BrotherLee Love.”

Christian McBride Trio
Christian McBride Trio Live at the Village Vanguard (Mack Avenue Records)
Jazz bassist Christian McBride had a simple formula for this Grammy-nominated album select nine compositions with simple melodies and allowed pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens to pour their chops over the compositions. As a bandleader, McBride has his hands in a lot of pots. He runs his Grammy-winning big band and the ensemble Inside Straight, and he made albums with each group for Mack Avenue. This trio outing, however, is his best work to date for the company. Listening to this album, I couldn’t help wondering if McBride designed the trio around Christian Sands’ chops.  Sands swings 24/7 and listening to him go-for-broke solo on “The Lady In My Life” gave my soul goosebumps.

Jacky Terrasson
Take This (Impulse!)
Ultra-conservative jazz devotees might want to put pianist Jacky Terrasson before a firing squad because of how he reworked Bud Powell’s gem “Un Poco Loco,” and Paul Desmond’s timeless hit “Take Five”. Conversely, those jazz lovers who approached the music with an open mind and who want an inspired listening experience will praise Terrasson from being a habitual risk-taker. Terrasson does some of everything on “Take This” such as singing, beatboxing, and playing the shit out the piano.

Vincent Herring
Night and Day (Smoke Sessions Records)

Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring is no stranger to red-blooded American blowing sessions. The past decade Herring has been in some memorable ones with his running buddy tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. “Night and Day” qualify as a blowing sessions, but this time, around Herring is on the frontline with Jeremy Pelt, a trumpeter dropped from the heavens into the jazz world and has been a blessing to every band he’s played in. Pelt didn’t perform on every cut on “Night and Day”, but when Herring needed Pelt’s services he blew his ass off. Check out “The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee” and “Smoking Paul’s Stash”.

Monday, December 14, 2015


Kenn Cox
Inside the Knight Suite at the Carr Center Sunday evening, a long overdue tribute to the late jazz pianist Kenn Cox was held. Over four decades Cox, who died in 2008 of lung cancer, was respected around the universe as a top tier jazz pianist, composer, educator, deep thinker, and entrepreneur. Cox’s  musical accomplishments are too vast to list in a blog post. Around Detroit, he led some heavy jazz bands such as the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, the Guerilla Jam Band, and Kenn Cox and Drum.

The 90-minute tribute concert was well organized and hosted by one of Cox's protégés bassist Rodney Whitaker. Whitaker and Cox's relationship date back to the early 80’s, and during the first set, Whitaker prefaced each composition the ensemble performed with stories about his relationship with Cox.

For the first set Whitaker’s ensemble saxophonists Diego Rivera and Vincent Bowen, drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Corey Kendrick and vocalist Rockelle Fortin performed compositions that were fixtures in Cox’s repertoire such as “Alone Together,” “You Go To My Head,” “Lamar” and “Cherokee”.  The first set was a hip dress rehearsal of sorts for the second, which featured Cox’s originals. Before the set began, Whitaker conducted a Q&A with Cox wife, Barbara.

She talked some about their marriage, revealing Cox was drawn to her early on because she was into Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, and Archie Shepp. She also talked about the times they took one night trips to Chicago to hear Miles Davis and Jackie McLean. The Q& A closed with her reading excerpts from Cox’s journal. Then Whitaker's ensemble nearly burned up the bandstand with Cox’s original “Mandela’s Muse,” followed by “Cultural Warrior,”  “Love Dance,” "Buhanina,”  and “Beyond A Dream.”.  

Trumpeter Rayse Biggs and vocalist Shahida Nurullah were special guests. If Cox were in attendance, chances are he would’ve favorite how wonderfully Nurullah sang “Love Dance” and how angelically Rockelle Fortin sang “You Go To My Head”. 

There were many OMG moments during both sets. The tribute was befitting a jazz musician of Cox’s influence and genius. Honestly, it’s impossible to single out a standout solo or showstopper because each musician – including the four students from the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra – showed up with their A-plus game.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Drummer Jimmy Cobb
Minutes before the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra played the first piece of their Sunday evening concert at the Carr Center in downtown Detroit, the Director of Jazz Studies at the University, bassist Rodney Whitaker, told the audience to fasten their seatbelts. 

Two choruses into the opener “Things to Come,” it was apparent why Whitaker wanted the audience to hold on. The MSU Jazz Orchestra, nicknamed the Be-bop Spartans, took the audience on a two-hour joyride through the backstreets of some well-known jazz classics. Guaranteed no soul left the Carr Center unconvinced the Be-bop Spartans are an elite collegiate jazz orchestra.

The Be-bop Spartans put everything on the line for each song they performed. Three songs into the set the orchestra was playing with such force and self-assurance, I thought they were competing for the Big Ten championship. The orchestra was under a lot of pressure given their special guest was the legendary jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb whose career in music spans five decades.

Cobb’s work history includes tenures with Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan. At 86, Cobb is still putting out outstanding jazz records. Last year, Smoke Sessions Records released one of Cobb’s finest recordings “The Original Mob”.  The Be-bop Spartans had performed four songs before Cobb joined them. The first showstopper was the orchestra’s interpretation of Frank Foster’s “Blues Backstage”.

The orchestra had the bandstand sufficiently heated by the time Cobb joined in to play “Two Bass Hit,” “Straight No Chaser,” and “Giant Steps”. Cobb soloed beautifully on each number, showing that at his advanced age, he hasn’t lost one ounce of the piss-and-vinegar he possessed as a key figure on landmark jazz albums such as “Kind of Blue” and “Giant Steps”.

Cobb was why most of the audience attended the concert. But, I daresay the Spartans stole the show. Everybody was banking on Cobb tearing-the-roof-off-the sucker. What was shocking was how the Be-bop Spartans flourished in the midst of such genius and greatness. Over the years, this reviewer has heard many of Whitaker’s recruiting classes. This class, however, is his most exciting and gifted.  

Monday, November 23, 2015


JD Allen
A group of regulars at the Detroit Groove Society house concert series was asked how the JD Allen Trio concert Sunday afternoon stacked up to other big-name performers who have played the series. The consensus was Allen’s show was among the top if not the best in the DGS's eleven-year history. Billy Hart, George Cables, Geri Allen, and Danilo Perez are other marquee stars who have graced the series. 

One DSG regular was so taken by the Allen trio’s depth and energy, he likened the show to one of John Coltrane’s live sets. Another regular posted on facebook after the concert he felt he was levitating listening to Allen blow.

The trio played on songs from Allen's albums “Shine!,” “The Matador and the Bull,” "Grace," and “Victory!”. The second set was heavy with material from his current recording “Graffiti”. 

Allen’s trio, bassist Gregg August, and drummer Jonathan Barber, who subbed for Allen’s regular drummer Rudy Royston, plunged into the music and resurfaced for the intermission. The trio opened with an extended version of Allen’s “Sun House,” an uncharacteristic move given Allen likes to get in and out of compositions quickly.

Allen blew so mightily on "Son House" this reviewer was concerned Andy Rothman, the Detroit Groove Society’s founder and whose home the series is held, would have to hire Hanson’s to replace all the windows in the house. Allen is a dynamo on tenor who seems to have a direct line to the spirits of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson.

Allen cooled down the house with the ballad “If You Could See Me Now,” rendered so thoughtfully it could’ve made the meanest fuck weep. After buttering up the audience with the ballad, the trio moved into a litany of short compositions that clocked in around four minutes each. Every song the trio presented both sets were bonafide showstoppers.

Johnathan Barber’s drumming made the concert extra special. His busy style of drumming is akin to Elvin Jones and Ralph Peterson. Barber was the crowd favorite, and he went hard on every number as if hellbent on staying in the trio permanently.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Regina Carter and Kenny Barron
Duo concerts are a staple of the Paradise Jazz Series. Over the years, there have been some doozies by the likes of John and Gerald Clayton, Bill Charlap and Rene Rosnes, and Dave Holland and Kenny Barron. Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in Detroit violinist Regina Carter and pianist Kenny Barron put on the best  duo performance in recent memory. 

For two hours, Carter and Barron played the repertoire from their album “Freefall” released on Verve Records in 2001. As the story goes, collaborating was Barron’s idea. In the early 90’s he pitched the project to Carter. She believed Barron was pulling her leg,  

At the time, Carter was in the throes of building her solo career. She only had a self-titled album on the market. Barron, on the other hand, was a well-known jazz pianist with a legend’s resume, having had stints with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes, and Yusef Lateef. And Barron led the immensely popular group SphereCarter ended up playing in two of Barron’s bands before they in 2001 made “Freefall,” which was a hit and received a Grammy nomination, 

Friday night was the first time in years Carter and Barron revisited music from “Freefall”. Witnessing them perform flawlessly for two hours made it hard to believe they only team up occasionally. On each song, their musical psyches were in sync, and for two hours the audience experienced a guided tour of the depths of Carter's and Barron's virtuosity. 

It's worth noting that Barron has the ten most elegant fingers in jazz. His elegance was in full bloom soloing on his original compositions "A Flower” and “What If”. Barron is also a masterful accompanist. The entire concert he made sure Carter was the focal point. 

Carter's soloing on “Soft as in a Morning Sunrise,” and “Misterioso” is why a segment of the near capacity audience probably had to soak their sore hands in Epson salt at home because of incessant clapping. Every improvisational trick Carter pulled from her sleeve drove the audience nuts. Carter broke the bank soloing on “Hush Now Don’t Explain,” playing it so beautifully and tenderly it appeared her violin was crying.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Regina Carter
When jazz pianist Kenny Barron first approached violinist Regina Carter back in the late 90’s about hooking up for a collaboration, Carter didn’t take him seriously. Back then, Carter was still building a reputation. The Detroiter, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, and the first jazz musician to play the priceless Paganini violin hadn’t reached the renown that she currently enjoys. 

Barron, on the other hand, was an accomplished and a well-known jazz pianist who’d run with greats such as Philly Joe Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, and Stan Getz. On top of that, Barron was the leader of the popular jazz bands Sphere.

Carter and Barron played some small projects together before finally collaborating in 2001 for the duo album for Verve Records called “Freefall.” The album hit big and months of touring followed. From the collaboration a lifelong friendship developed. Nearly, two decades have passed since the musicians have performed music from “Freefall” together live.

On November 20th, Carter and Kenny will reunite at the Paradise Jazz Series in Detroit to play music from “Freefall”.  Saturday morning, I Dig Jazz talked with Carter via telephone about her longstanding association with Kenny Barron, the new album she’s gathering material for, and how the mentoring she received early on in Detroit prepared her for the music business.

When did you and Kenny Barron first meet, and what impact has he had on you as a musician?

Of course, I knew who Kenny was forever, but the first time we formerly met, I think it was in the late 90’s around the time my very first record on Atlantic Records was out. We were both at the Telluride Jazz Festival. I remember he said I would love us to make a record together. I said yeah right, which is totally like me. That came out of my mouth before I could think about it. Anyway, he hired me a couple times for his band, and we did a couple duo concerts together. So, it took years for our schedules to free up for us to record “Freefall”.

Why did you feel he was pulling your leg when he approached you about a collaboration?

Here was this master musician and he wanted to record with me. I was in total disbelief in the beginning. When you look back, that’s what master jazz musicians would do. They would reach back and bring young musicians onto the stage and the scene. That’s where you learn. That’s where the schooling takes place on the stage with the masters.

What was it about his musicianship that drew you to him?

You know one beautiful thing about Kenny is when you meet him, and you are around him, he’s such a down to earth person. There are no airs. He’s a very genuine person. I felt I could be myself playing with him. Before we recorded “Freefall” he played on one of my projects, and we recorded his tune “New York Attitudes”. I remember at the time one of the producers of the album kept telling me that I should do my solo over, that I could do it better. The producer kept going in on me. I remember Kenny saying to me that you are where you are today. I felt all this pressure from this producer person who wasn’t a musician and who was trying to get me to do things I couldn’t do. Kenny just made me feel comfortable. This is where you were when you made this recording, and it is a document of where you were then. Not that you are going to stay there. Kenny, telling me that made me feel comfortable.

Carter and Kenny Barron
Were there challenges you had to deal with performing with such an accomplished musician?

When we made “Freefall,” I didn’t feel any stress going into it because he wanted to record with me knowing where I was. He wasn’t expecting me to come into the session being on John Coltrane’s level. Kenny knew where I was musically.

For the Paradise Jazz Series concert will the set list include material from “Freefall,” or do you and Barron have a bunch of new music in store?

It will be the music we played on “Freefall”. It has been a year or so since we performed together.

A couple decades have passed since you left Detroit. Do you believe, at some point, you’ll moved back to the city?

You know, it’s funny because when I’m in Detroit during the summer my husband {drummer Alvester Garnett} says he gets the feeling we’re going to be living in Detroit because I love my city so much, but when the winter hits I say no maybe not. You know, my husband’s mom lives in Virginia, so if anything I see us living there at some point. But, really you never know.
Are you working on any new projects?

I’m just starting to gather material for my next album, which will be a celebration of the music that Ella Fitzgerald recorded and some music that she helped to compose?

Ella Fitzgerald has always been one of your biggest musical heroes.

She’s the first person that I go to when I have to learn something. She got me through some stuff. I got into her music in the early 80’s. I listen to her daily. When I first get up in the morning. It’s Ella and my espresso.

Why has it taken you so long to do an album of her music?

For whatever reasons it wasn’t the right time to do it. I feel like the music leads me to where I need to be.

You have made nine albums. With every album, you come out of a different bag. Why are you so big on self-reinvention?

I attribute that to growing up in Detroit with WJZZ and hearing all types of music, and not feeling these divisions between genres of music. Back then, I was hearing all different kinds of music, and that was okay. There weren't all these divisions, and corporations weren’t running the stuff. I have all these musical influences, and I never differentiate between them. I feel like I'm true to myself and true to the music. I’m not chasing anything.  I have a lot of interest, and I follow that. I let the music lead me. I respect the music, and I follow it.

How have the mentoring you received in Detroit early on helped you deal with the pressures and the difficulties of the music business?

I’m always thankful that I had an upbringing in Detroit where I was able to be around and study with musicians who prepared me. After being around musicians like Kenn Cox, Marcus Belgrave, Donald Washington, and Lyman Woodard just so many positive musicians interested in helping youngsters and young musicians.  When I went to New York, I heard musicians complain about situations they’re in, and how they’d been treated by big-name musicians in a certain negative way.

I felt like because somebody has a name and you are coming up as a young musician, you shouldn’t have to deal with that negative treatment. Coming out of Detroit, I never experienced that. I never had any negative experiences with Marcus, Kenn, or Lyman. The biggest lesson that I got was I don’t have to put myself into negative situations or stay in those situations to succeed in this music or the business. In fact, I knew it would do my spirit harm, and, therefore, it would affect my music.

I removed myself from those situations, or I’d say no to certain gigs. Some people might say whoa you’re not going to take that gig even though it pays a lot of money. They’d ask why not. It’s more important for me to protect my spirit, and to respect the music. That was the biggest lesson. I learned how I was treated in the beginning is how I should always be treated.

Regina Carter & Kenny Barron Duo Friday, November 20th 8:00 PM Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center 313-576-5111/ for details

Monday, November 9, 2015


Chucho Valdes
When pianist Chucho Valdes decided to do a retrospective tour in honor of Irakere, a famous  Afro-Cuban band he founded in 1973 that played a hybrid of jazz, rock, Cuban folk and dance music, and graduated heavy hitters such as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Valdes didn’t set his sights  on reuniting surviving members of Irakere. Instead, he assembled a group of hungry young Cuban musicians who grew up on a steady diet of Irakere music. Valdes, a multi-Grammy winner and a pioneer of Afro-Cuban jazz performed with nine of those Cuban musicians known internationally as the Afro-Cuban Messengers Sunday afternoon at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. The concert was  the second of the University Musical Society's jazz series. The concert was supposed to be an Irakere retrospective. The Messengers performed some Irakere’s staples such as “Misa Negra,” and “Bacalao Con Pan,” and new music written specifically for the current tour. The performance, however, resembled an exhibition of incredibly gifted musicians.When a member of the horn section soloed, the other members left the stage, allowing the audience to zero in on the soloist. There were awe-inspiring solos from Ariel Bringuez, who has a tone on tenor sax that's rich as chocolate cake, and. Rafael Aguila, who blew so forcefully, I feared his alto sax would explode in his hands. During Valdes’s  solos, it appeared four hands were playing the piano. He’s a percussive pianist, and he had the piano doing all sorts of magic tricks. The Messengers covered a lot of musical territory in the 90-minute set. The highlight occurred near the end of the concert when the Messengers served the audience a ragtime number dipped in Afro-Cuban juices, and then moved seamlessly into a blues. The near capacity audience went nuts. The Messengers have to be the most joyful ensemble on earth as if every member awaken every day loving being a Messenger. The rule of thumb is at the end of a killer set of music an audience shows its appreciation with a standing ovation. This audience thanked Valdes and his Afro-Cuban Messengers by dancing in the aisles.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Sophisticated Abbey is an album jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln recorded in concert in 1980 at the famed San Francisco jazz club The Keystone Korner. HighNote Records unveiled the album nationwide three months back. “Sophisticated Abbey” set-list has some timeless standards, and Lincoln was of excellent voice that evening. Like Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, Lincoln could boil down any song to its bare essence. Throughout “Sophisticated Abbey,” Lincoln took care with each song as if she hand washed every lyric. The production and audio quality of the recording are so distinct it feels as if Lincoln is singing while seated on your lap. The cuts surely to be replayed over and over are the medleys. The first includes “Sophisticated Lady,” “There Are Such Things,” and “Man of Music (Con Alma). On the second, Lincoln goes all in on “The Nearness of You” and “For All We Know”. Honestly, there isn’t a subpar cut on this album. Lincoln employed a sharp rhythm section in bassist James Leary, drummer Doug Sides, and pianist Phil James. James, rumored to have been in a dead heat with Wynton Kelly as Lincoln's favorite accompanist, was responsible for extracting pure honey from Lincoln during the concert. On the duet "Whistling Away the Dark," her voice melted over Wright's fingers. Lincoln always cited Billie Holiday as her biggest inspiration musically. She closed “Sophisticated Abbey” with such a thoughtful reworking of "God Bless the Child" it would've caused Holiday to blush if she were alive to experience it.    

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Alexander White is a 25-year-old jazz drummer from Detroit, a graduate of the Detroit School of Fine and Performing Arts. Coming up on ten years, White has performed around Detroit. How sweet are White's chops? When saxophonist James Carter needed a replacement drummer for his world-renowned jazz organ trio White got the call. Touring with Carter is White’s first high profile job.  He's a member of a community of gifted young Detroit jazz musicians who breathes, eats, and, drinks music. Some of those gifted players as are bassist Ben Rolston, saxophonists Marcus Elliot, Rafael Statin, pianists Ian Finkelstein and Glenn Tucker. They play on White’s wonderfully eclectic debut album “Ubuntu” out last month on Detroit Record Forge. “Ubuntu” is lean with only six cuts that White hand stitched. The album is an example of the alt-jazz many players in White’s circle are into currently. The album has a smooth jazz and fusion driven personality. The opener “Freedom” and “Praying Their Souls" are crowd-pleasers. “Window” is the album’s only slow-jam, and saxophonist Marcus Elliot delivers a solo that has a puppy love kind of innocence. All the sideman showed up with their A-game. What “Ubuntu” shows unequivocally is White's tastefulness on drums and his seriousness as session leader. On “Cuckoo Bird,” one of the album's liveliest numbers, White pushes and supports organist Glenn Tucker and saxophonist Rafael Station through their barn burning solos.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Tenor saxophonist Houston Person is eighty, and he’s been making soulful jazz for four decades. To date, he's made over seventy albums as a bandleader, the first dating back to 1966 for Prestige Records. His contributions as a sideman would take weeks to explain. Some of his more remarkable work was with his collaborator of thirty years vocalist Etta Jones. Like the late saxophonists Jimmy Forrest, Ike Quebec, and Gene Ammons, Person's sound is soul driven, and he’s adept at playing ballads. His new album “Something Personal” on High Note Records is full of them. “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over and "Teardrops From My Eyes" are the only uptempo cuts on the album. You'll ride by them, anxious to get back to the ballads. Track after track, Person shows his real gift is turning a ballad into a work of art. Pianist John di Martino, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Lewis Nash, guitarist James Chirillo and vibraphonist Steve Nelson are Person’s support network. Person play “The Way We Were,” and the title track with such raw feeling your ears will cry. The sideman who deserves a banquet is Steve Nelson. For a long time, he's been free jazz guru Dave Holland’s right-hand man, adding extra power and depth to Holland's ensemble. On “Something Personal,” Nelson shows he has a sweet and gentle side. On “Guilty” and  “Crazy He Called Me,” Nelson’s soloing will give your soul goosebumps. 

Monday, October 19, 2015


The joke about drummer and bandleader Sean Dobbins around Detroit’s jazz scene is he’s held down more jobs than a Jamaican. Dobbins has a strong work ethic. At one point, for example, he taught at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, Oakland University, and was the Artistic Director of Jazz Ensembles for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra while performing regionally with the Dobbins Krahnke Weed Trio, and fronting the Sean Dobbins and the Modern Jazz Messengers group. Outside of music, he’s a husband and has three children. With being a musician, an educator, and a family man on his plate, you wonder where in the hell Dobbins found the time, energy, and creativity to make the kick-ass jazz album “The Journey” just released on Detroit Music Factory. The album is Dobbins’s sophomore testament for the label. The first was the slamming “Blue Horizons”. This time out, Dobbins took his organ quartet – saxophonist Marcus Elliot, guitarist Ralph Tope, and organist Chris Codish – into the studio. The quartet has a less explosive temperament than Dobbins's other group Sean Dobbins and the Modern Jazz Messengers. For "The Journey" Dobbins picked ten recognizable compositions such as “Willow Weep for Me,” “Jingles,”  “Remember,” and “Here To Life” and allowed the quartet to pour their chops over the compositions. Each member has a sterling moment on the album. Elliot on “Fancy Free,” and Codish on “Ooh Child”. By far, Tope is the primary muscle on the album. His strumming was sinfully good throughout, and Tope has a gift for pulling pure excellence from his bandmates. Dobbins’s is the brain behind the quartet, but he didn’t step into the spotlight much. The solos that he took were precise. The more commanding solo was at the tail end of “Here’s To Life”. Those familiar with Dobbins career knows early on he was prone to grandstanding.  Sometimes, the most rambunctious and animated cat on the bandstand. However, that hey-mom-check-me-out mentality is in the past. As “The Journey” shows, Dobbins is now a great jazz drummer and a giving bandleader.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


In a short time, the jazz pianist/organist Glenn Tucker has transcended the rising star status on Detroit’s jazz scene and has developed into a bonafide jazz sensation. At 26, three full years removed from music school at the University of Michigan, the native of Ann Arbor, MI, has made a name for himself as a sideman, composer, and bandleader. Last month, the Detroit Music Factory released “Determination,” Tucker’s flawless debut. 

The album has nine originals, and Tucker's band has three elite Detroit jazz musicians bassist Robert Hurst, trumpeter Dwight Adams, and trombonist Vincent Chandler. Rising Detroit talent drummer Alex White and saxophonist Rafael Statin round out the band.

After experiencing a couple of selections on "Determination," you'll understand Tucker is an old soul, deep into the lineage of Detroit jazz pianist. As a pianist, Tucker has the late jazz pianist Claude Black’s spirit dancing in his right hand, and Kenn Cox’s spirit blessing his left hand.

As a composer, Tucker’s original compositions are akin to some of the intelligent and exciting compositions alto saxophonist Cassius Richmond wrote back in the day. I Dig Jazz, hit Tucker with questions about "Determination, recruiting elite Detroit jazz musicians for his debut, and being mentored by the great pianist Claud Black. 

When did you begin plotting “Determination”?

Some of the music was written as early as 2009, but I started plotting the album in early 2013, finally settling on the title and playlist in late 2013. In a sense, it is a compilation of music I’d already written that fit the theme, and music that I wrote after I had the concept in mind.

Why did you go with all originals instead of standards?

I play a lot of standards live, but the industry is so oversaturated with them. I try to stick to my music when I record, to feature myself as a composer and performer. It takes a lot to record a standard in a way that stands up next to the classics. At one point, I considered including one standard and one cover, but I thought this album was a stronger statement with only my music.

The title cut, “Keep on Turnin’,” “Takin’ It Back,” and “Walk Like Warriors” are exceptional. What inspired the compositions?

“Determination” was inspired by the Blue Note recordings of Kenn Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet. When I wrote it, the title was abstract, but over time, it has come to resonate with my personal journey and also to act as a frame for the body of music on the record. There is also a resonance with the Detroit bebop legacy and themes of determination throughout Detroit’s history.

The groove of “Keep On Turnin’” was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” so I titled it with a quotation from that song’s lyrics. This is the most uplifting side of the "Determination" theme.

I wrote “Takin’ It Back” for a gig I did with drummer Jesse Kramer’s group more or less as an exercise to get myself more comfortable playing in 11/8 and long 7/4 meters. The verse-chorus format is loosely inspired by Gamble & Huff’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. The title refers not only to the throwback funkiness of the tune but also the courage needed to claim and reclaim positive elements of life, which fits the theme of the album.

“Walk Like Warriors” also draws its title from a lyric, in this case from Common’s "Be". I wrote this tune to balance out the title cut since I wanted to begin and end the album with the sextet. This piece was largely inspired by the personalities in the group, custom-built for the recording session. I wrote the melody with Vincent in mind and each of the grooves with Alex and Bob in mind and gave each guy room to shine as a soloist and group players. Some of my favorite playing on the record is listening to how Bob interprets each of the grooves.

Robert Hurst, Vincent Chandler, and Dwight Adams are apostles of Detroit jazz. Did you have to sell your soul to get them in the studio?
It took me a minute to save up what I thought these musicians were worth, but each of them put in extra effort learning the music. They have all been very encouraging of me from a young age, so they were excited to help.

Talk about your affinity for playing with rising stars saxophonist Rafael Statin and drummer Alex White, and how different this album would be without them.

At the time this was recorded, Rafael, Alex and I were a working band. Initially, Rafael and Alex hired me to be in their organ trio before I knew what I was doing on organ, and totally kicked my butt in the process. One thing I loved about that trio is that we never talked about the music before or after, we just played. Always challenging, always fun, always grooving, what more could you ask for?

This album would be very different without them because we learned all of this music over time. This allowed me to record some of my harder tunes because we had the trio foundation to support the other musicians, who learned the music specifically for the recording sessions. Although Dwight did come in on a trio gig and sight-read a few of these tunes at a depressingly high level.

Were there any challenges mixing the two generations of jazz musicians together?

No challenges. Vincent had already been using Rafael in his septet, and Bob has used Rafael in his group for a long time. Dwight had come to sit in with us for years. I was able to reconnect Vincent and Alex, who knew each other but hadn’t worked together until I put them both on an organ trio date of mine. All of us came up through the same mentoring system, and Bob has recorded with a number of us younger players since he’s been back in Michigan. So, it was natural and fun.

As a young jazz pianist, what are some of the challenges you have faced making a name for yourself?

I have faced a lot of the challenges that my mentors and their mentors have faced, many of them being market forces. It can be easier to make a living as a sideman, or playing standards, or playing in a historic style; it can be easier to make a living outside of jazz too. It can be easier to get booked in venues as an out-of-town name than as a so-called local name. Daniel Aldridge calls us "residential musicians," which removes the ‘local-musician’ stigma. Clubs haven’t adjusted for inflation in decades, although people seem to differ on how many decades.

Most of my heroes aren’t household names, as they ought to be; most of them are musician’s musicians. There’s also the challenge of reconciling the wisdom of the elders with the realities of today. I’ve always tended on the side of being known by musicians, sometimes at the cost of not being better known by the public or having the name recognition or even having gigs as a leader.

I happen to like learning different styles and working as a sideman, but it’s ultimately a balancing act, finding the balance where you are the most productive and happy. There’s also the balancing act of working on your music versus working on other people’s music. Ultimately, it’s all music, and everything feeds into everything else, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Pianist Claude Black was one of your mentors. How did you meet him, and what impact did his genius have on you as a pianist and as a composer?

Paul Keller recommended me for a gig with Clifford Murphy when I was 15, and Clifford’s partner Joan Russell somehow picked my name out of the list he sent. So, I did a private gig with Clifford when Claude was out of town. A few weeks later, my mom and I went to Murphy’s Place on a night Claude was playing. After that, we started making almost weekly pilgrimages to hear him, and he would always have me up to play, which was a great reality check to hear myself on the same piano with the same rhythm section. And I was playing saxophone too in those years, so I think I might be one of the few pianists to have been accompanied by their mentor as such.

The timing was such that Claude was at a very generous, reflective stage of life, and I was a total sponge trying to learn the music. There are pianists in Toledo who probably spent more time around Claude but sound less like him just because they were already mature players when they heard him. I got to hear Claude dozens and dozens of times, on good nights, on off nights; with great singers, with amateur singers; with a responsive crowd, to an empty house at 1:00 am; with his full physical capabilities, struggling with low energy or arthritis; I heard it all. I can still remember specific solos he took, although I won’t go into detail.

Above all, I learned musicianship from Claude. What it means to know a tune. What it means to accompany attentively. What every note you play means. What it means to overcome your frustrations and make music. What it means to work a crowd by the sheer power and truth of your playing. What it means to have personality. What it means to leave everything on the bandstand. Musicianship.

In terms of musical specifics, I am still studying Claude’s harmonic concept, since there is way too much there for me to understand even as an adult, much less as a teenager.  A lot of what I learned initially was textbook Detroit piano straight from Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan through Claude. For me, he was also a link to all of the people he’d accompanied: Billie Holiday, Dakota Staton, Johnny Hartman, Eddie Jefferson, Yusef Lateef, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, a totally ridiculous pedigree. But his playing reflected all of that experience. That in turn affected me deeply and gave me tremendous inspiration to this day. The fact that I am one degree away from all of those legends having heard the same pianist they heard on their gigs.

If Claude were alive and got his hands on “Determination,” would he be proud of it?

I would certainly hope so. Quite a few Toledoans tell me that they hear him throughout all of my playings and not just when I am playing something, I directly learned from him. Historically speaking he was almost a swing-to-bop pianist despite his age; he drew a lot from people like Erroll Garner and Hank Jones, who were a little older than the beboppers. I say this because he was pretty hard to pin down on more modern music. Some things he liked, others he kept his mouth shut when the topic came up. But he was always happy to see people in his circle doing well.

"Determination" CD Release Party on 10/30/2015 at the Carr Center 311 Grand River Ave. Detroit, MI. 48226 (313-965-8430) Robert Hurst on bass and Alex White on drums. 7:30, $10 suggested donation

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Orrin Evans is 21 albums deep into his career. The Philadelphian is the youngest of a generation of great pianists such as Marc Cary, Jason Moran, Anthony Wonsey, Jacky Terrasson, and Cyrus Chestnut. They started recording as leaders in the 90’s. Evans, 39, has a stellar body of work that dates back to that era. He recorded some gems for Criss Cross Records such as “Captain Black,” “Justin Time,”  "Listen To The Album," and “Grown Folks Bizness”. Of late, Evans’s work has remained consistantly stellar. “Flip Script” out in 2012 rocked his fans, and his debut for Smoke Session Records “Liberation Blues” was one of the sweetest albums the popular jazz label put out last year. “The Evolution of Oneself” is Evans’s second album for the label, and is a crowning achievement. The album was an ambitious undertaking. A perfect primer for folks new to Evans’s work. For his established fan base, it reaffirmed what a wonderfully diverse musical imagination he possesses. He included, on the album, blues, R&B, neo-soul, spoken word, and even a way out free-jazz cut. On top of that, Evans has two franchise players in drummer Karriem Riggins and bassist Christian McBride. Evans’s association with Riggins dates back to their arrival in New York in the early 90’s. They were roommates. McBride is also a Philadelphian known to have blessed with his genius every band he’s worked in. McBride and Evans have played together before, but Evans longed to team with the Grammy-winner for a substantive project. “Evolution of Oneself” proved to be the right endeavor. McBride’s soloing on “Sweet Sid” will boost your metabolism. The trio has a groove driven kind of swing, evident on Evans’s originals like “Spot It You Got It,” “Tsagil’s Lean,” and “Professor Farworthy”. “Wildwood Flower,” which features guitarist Marvin Swell is the only cut that’ll have listeners wondering what was going through Evans’s head when he made it. “Wildwood Flower” is a folk song, but Evans turned it into a free jazz country-and-western number  . 

Monday, September 28, 2015


The jazz saxophonist John Wojciechowski is a native of Mount Clemens, MI, and a graduate of Western Michigan University. His dad was a sheet metal worker who moonlighted as a jazz organist, and who made sure music was a big part of his son’s existence. After college Wojciechowski played briefly in New York, returned to Michigan, and when the worked there slowed to a crawl around 2002, he moved to Chicago and became a valuable player and jazz educator there. Lexicon was his debut as a leader, showing Wojciechowski had a blue-collar swing ethic. Focus is his second album released September 18th on Origin Records. The ten cut album is a frigging good post-bop jazz album with much attitude, and exquisite playing by Wojciechowski's rhythm section pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Dana Hall. Ternary, Twirl, and particularly the quartet’s working of Thelonious Monk’s classic Evidence will leave listener’s mouths hanging wide open. Wojciechowski has run the streets with Cohan, Carroll, and Hall since setting up shop in Chicago. As Focus shows, the musicians are in lockstep with each other’s musical psyches. As for Wojciechowski,  stylistically, it sounds as if saxophonists Sonny Rollins's and Joe Henderson's blood flow through Wojciechowski’s saxophones. By trade, he’s a post-bop craftsman check out In Your Own Sweet Way. He also possesses a gentle streak, On cuts such as Divided Man and The Listener, he redefines what’s regarded as smooth jazz

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Christian McBride Trio Live At The Village Vanguard is the jazz bassist’s second trio album. The album was recorded last year and released nationwide recently. For eight years running, McBride has had an annual weeklong engagement at the famed jazz club. He’s rocked the Vanguard with his quintet Inside Straight, and his Grammy-winning-big band. This time out, McBride performed with his trio drummer Ulysses Owens, and pianist Christian Sands. For Live at the Village Vanguard, McBride went with standards and some well-known R& B oldies that have simple melodies. McBride pushed his guys to pour their imaginations over the standards and oldies. There’s nothing earthmoving here, but you’ll have a ball listening to the trio play Fried Pies, Cherokee, Down By The Riverside, Car Wash, and The Lady In My Life, a hit by Michael Jackson.  Midway through the album you’ll concede, McBride built this trio around Sands’ chops. Stylistically, Sands has Hank Jones's spirit dwelling in his left hand, and Vijay Iyer influence crashing his right hand. The cut likely to get the most watercooler talk is The Lady In My Life. Sands’ solo would have the king of pop moonwalking in heaven. Sands has the biggest presence on the album, but Owens has some choice moments, showing his ass on Fried Pies and the closer Car Wash.

When the newly formed jazz trio Perez Patitucci Blade completed their new album, Children Of The Light,, the trio presented the album to saxophonist Wayne Shorter as a gesture of gratitude for being their musical father figure for nearly two decades. Perez, Patitucci, and Blade have made some unforgettable albums with Shorter, Without A Net being the most recent. Children Of The Light is the first time pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade have recorded as a trio. Children Of The Light is a marvelous album of eleven originals.  Each member contributed compositions, and the album comes off as a love letter to Shorter. Fortunately, the trio didn’t pay homage to Shorter by playing his music. They dove head first into the deep end of their imaginations and returned to the surface with opulent originals such as Looking For Light, Milky Way, and African Wave. Although each member shares equal billing, Perez is the star. His playing throughout was profound and wonderfully abstract. The music on Children Of The Light won’t have you strutting-what-your-mama-gave-you, but you’ll have a swell time hearing Perez, Patitucci and Blade ply their musical genius, which Shorter played a significant role in cultivating.