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.