Saturday, January 31, 2015


Kenny Garrett
If you caught the Kenny Garrett set Friday night at Orchestra Hall, the third of the Paradise Jazz Series, and expected him to swing through music from his past albums such as “Songbook,” “Simply Said,” and “Pursuance: Music of John Coltrane,” chances are you were a bit disappointed when he didn’t.

There’s plenty of swinging that happened on the stage anyway but Garrett stuck to his most recent music. Garrett didn’t present any of the old stuff that put him on the map as a bandleader many moons ago. That doesn’t suggest in any way Garrett put on a bad concert. Garrett still plays the alto like a frustrated tenor sax player.

Garrett remains the reigning king of the alto sax. He has for many years although there’s some stiff competition out there with the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon, It was the band’s first gig of the New Year. There weren’t any visible signs of rust. That’s a sign of the level of musicianship in this band.

Some of the music Garrett’s band played had chanting, which was a disruption at times. You couldn’t tell who was doing the chanting. Garrett’s sweetness manifested when he gave the up-tempo burners a rest and played a ballad at grown folk’s tempo. 

Garrett was unsurprisingly brilliant mostly, and he has an outstanding band in drummer McClenty Hunter, bassist Corcoran Holt, percussionist Ruby Bird and pianist Vernell Brown.

Brown was the standout throughout hitting big with a series of highly charged solos. It seemed as if his fingers had knocked back a case of energy drinks before the set began. 

Garrett fancies percussive and showy pianists in his band. Over the years, Garrett has had some fine ones in Carlos McKinney and Benito Gonzalez. Brown has been with Garrett the longest. Brown sounded like McCoy Tyner at the height of Tyner’s power.

Brown didn’t carry the show though. Holt and Hunter pitched in, too. Hunter participated in the concert’s best spot with the meaty exchange with Garrett on the fourth number, which came off as a battle of wills. 

Holt was absolutely brilliant. He played a lively bass solo that had the hairs on the necks of the audience doing the Dougie.

Bird, on the other hand, seemed out of sorts. Throughout the set, he was in his own world. He’s a decent enough percussionist but he didn’t put forth anything memorable. His dancing at the end of the set was silly and unnecessary.

Garrett showed he can be a ham also doing everything in his power to get the audience to cheer louder when he played his signature set closer “Happy People”. It was cheesy and overkill because Garrett had the crowd eating out of his hands all night long.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Regina Carter
Chances are the full house at the Virgil Carr Center Saturday evening really didn’t know what to expect. Yes, Detroiter violinist Regina Carter was playing. She’s one of a handful of jazz musicians who consistently put on memorable shows. Her set at the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival was one of its high points. This time Carter wasn't with her regular touring band, and she wasn’t performing cuts from her wonderful 2014 album “Southern Comfort” or cuts from her other albums. 

The Carr Center isn’t the best place in the world to hear music. The sound system needs upgrading. The seating is such you can barely see the musicians. Installing a small stage would be an improvement. 

Carter was at the Carr Center with the Oakland Jazz Quartet playing some of rock-n-roll icon Jimi Hendrix’s greatest hits. The program was the brainchild of Carter and the jazz bassist Miles Brown, the director of Jazz Studies at Oakland University. Brown is an exceptional jazz bassist with a bottomless imagination.  

Carter isn’t new to ambitious undertakings. She’s the only jazz musician to play the prestigious Paganini violin. In 2006, she won the MacArthur Genius Grant. She was honest with the crowd, telling them she didn’t grow up with Hendrix’s music. At times that was apparent. 

Carter performed with drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Scott Gwinnell, percussionist Mark Stone, and Brown. For musicians unaccustomed to playing Hendrix’s music regularly, they did a fair job. 

Gwinnell and Carter did most of the arranging. The band opened with “Fire,” moved into “Ezy Rider”. Then Dobbins took the floor on “Third Stone from the Sun”. This was the most far-out number the band played. Normally, Dobbins’ drum solos stick to your ribs. This wasn’t one of his shining moments although the bulk of the crowd seemed impressed. 

Overall, the problem with the performance was neither musician seemed intimately knowledgeable of Hendrix’s songbook. You wonder how sweet this project would’ve been had the band spent more than a day or so familiarizing themselves with Hendrix’s hits.