Thursday, May 18, 2017


Benny Rubin Jr
Some loyal supporters of Detroit jazz came out Wednesday evening to Bert’s in the Eastern Market to hear a rising star. His name is Benny Rubin Jr. He’s an alto saxophonist, and a senior at the Detroit School of the Arts. For two sets he played with a wealth of depth and maturity well beyond his years. Of late, Rubin Jr has been making a name for himself. Many heavies on Detroit’s jazz scene have spread the word on what a serious musician Rubin Jr is. You can hear history in his playing, and as he grows in the coming years, Rubin Jr will surely be compared to great alto saxophonists like Jesse Davis and Frank Strozier. Wednesday was the first time Rubin Jr’s quartet – guitarist Jacob Schwandt, drummer Brandon Williams, and bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton -- played the weekly jazz series at Bert’s run by veteran jazz concert promoter Bill Foster and photographer and jazz aficionado Karen Fox. The series books a mix of known jazz musicians such as saxophonist JD Allen and up-and-comers like Rubin Jr and drummer Tariq Gardner.  The cover is ten bucks for two sets. Rubin Jr was professional at every level. The first set started promptly at 7:00 pm as advertised, and the band was  well rehearsed. During the sets, the band stretched out on well-loved standards such as “Bolivia,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Take the A Train.” and some of Rubin Jr.’s originals. Rubin held the crowd’s attention throughout both sets. I would be remiss if I ignored a disappointing moment of an otherwise wonderful evening of music. Detroit’s own James Carter showed up, and Rubin Jr gracefully and respectfully asked the acclaimed saxophonist to set in for the final tune of the closing set. Carter refused. Obviously, Carter is a musician Rubin Jr idolizes. What could be more hurtful than being shunned for no good reason by someone you admire? If Carter’s refusal hurt Rubin Jr, it didn’t show one bit because he kept on swinging.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling
Surely, for many at the sold out Branford Marsalis Quartet’s concert featuring jazz vocalist Kurt Elling it was the first time witnessing an encore morph into a jam session. That’s what happened Friday evening at the fifth concert of the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The band put on inarguably the best show of this season. Hell, I’d argue the best in the past five years. And the encore was damn near as good as the concert. Marsalis and his band pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Justin Faulkner and bassist Eric Revis and Elling performed music from the acclaimed 2016 album “Upward Spiral.” The two-hour swing fest opened with “Teo” from the quartet’s date “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” after which Marsalis introduced Elling. Elling was of excellent voice. It didn’t take long for Elling to go from zero to sixty. Although Elling was the draw, Calderazzo’s and Faulkner’s performance were the most memorable.  Faulkner played as if the ghosts of the late jazz drummers Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey were having a jam session in Faulkner’s body. During his tenure with the quartet, he has become the standout in the band. Calderazzo was right there with him, and it was magical watching the two trade. Honestly, when I learned of Elling joining the quartet for the “Upward Spiral” project, I had reservations if a jazz vocalist with such a distinctly beautiful voice would be a disruptive force with the best band in jazz. Elling, however, fits comfortably. After the band showed out on selections such as “There A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York,” “Blue Gardenias,” “From One Island To Another,” “Mama Said,” and “Blue Velvet,” the band exited the stage to a well-earned ovation. When the audience settled down, Marsalis and Elling returned to the stage and performed a duet. If that wasn’t enough, Revis came out after them and performed a bass solo that would’ve made Charles Mingus envious. There’s more. The band then played a hot version of “St James Infirmary” This is where the encore morphed into a jam session with trumpeter Terence Blanchard,  and saxophonist Diego Rivera joining in. At this point, people were dancing in the aisles.