Friday, May 31, 2019


Trumpeter Trunino Lowe
The jazz trumpeter Trunino Lowe is a rising star on Detroit’s jazz scene, having performed at many popular jazz clubs in Detroit and neighboring cities. A few weeks ago, he played the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in suburban Detroit, and in early June he’s booked for a weekend run at the Blue Llama, the hot new jazz venue in Ann Arbor. To date, he’s the youngest jazz musician to work the Dirty Dog where many of the country’s top jazz musicians have held court. Word spread on social media his shows at the Dirty Dog were breathtaking. He's a talented musician who plays the standards with dexterity and amazing proficiency. He proved that much Wednesday night at his concert at Cliff Bell’s in downtown Detroit, performing with his quartet pianist LeRoy Micken, drummer Louis M. Jones, bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton, and special guest vocalist London Paul. The quartet opened the first set with three standards and closed with two originals. One original composed by Jones and the other by Lowe. The band sounded best on the standards, which Lowe added some polish to, making the oldies appear freshly minted. The originals “Peek-a-boo,” and “Teenage Rage” were less appealing with the former being hard to follow, giving the impression the quartet didn’t rehearse the tune. Vocalist London Paul was a welcomed addition. Paul is a promising young vocalist, and jazz fans should keep an eye on her. She’ll surely get better with age and when she figures out the appropriate songs for her voice and surrounds herself with an experienced rhythm section that’ll push her to heights she never imagined achieving. Jones isn’t a complete drummer or a tasteful one yet. Listening to him soloing, I detected traces of that hey-mom-look-at-me mentality too many young jazz drummers are cursed with.  I wondered if his chops would be better served in a funk band. And Micken lacked fire. Lowe, however, blew with passion and vigor but seemed unconcerned with professionalism. It pains me to say, he didn’t look as sharp as he sounded. It’s worth noting he’s part of a generation of jazz musicians not particular about their onstage appearance. A generation way too comfortable performing in jeans and sneakers. The veteran jazz musicians who’re training these youngsters haven’t instilled the importance of being well-dressed, and it’s sinful to stand before a paying audience sloppily dressed. The great star maker Art Blakey used to tell the members in his ensemble, according to former Messenger drummer Ralph Peterson, the first thing an audience sees before you play one note of music is how you look. They make assumptions about how the music will sound based on that initial impression. To me, that observation makes all the sense in the world. How many times did you see the Jazz Messengers walked on stage sharp as shit and you knew the music was going to be fire? On a YouTube video, the legendary bassist Ron Carter commented he informs students at the beginning of the semester he won’t allow them to perform with him without a dark suit, a crisp white shirt, and a necktie. Jazz musicians have historically been sartorial trendsetters. Frankly, it’s criminal the current generation isn’t hip to that. Honestly, I’m surprised jazz club owners haven’t mandated performers dress professionally. My fingers are crossed; however, as Lowe improves  so will his professionalism. For now, he has a promising future in the music, and he deserves support.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Jason Marsalis
The jazz vibist and drummer Jason Marsalis has a new touring band called the BGQ Exploration, supposedly a modernized version of Benny Goodman’s 1930 quartet with Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton. Friday and Saturday evening Marsalis’ test drove the quartet at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe not necessarily playing Goodman’s original music but instead tunes his quartet performed regularly. The other music Marsalis featured was from Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington, Herlin Riley, and several of Marsalis’s original tunes. He's foremost a jazz drummer, a damn good one. He’s also a fantastic vibe player, and during a few of his solos Saturday evening his mallet work reminded me of Detroiter Milt Jackson. For what it’s worth the BGQ Exploration is a competent quartet its members being drummer Gerald Watkins, clarinetist Joe Goldberg, and pianist Kris Tokarski, but the group hasn’t completely gelled yet. Of the concerts I have caught at the Dirty Dog, Marsalis’s was, it pains me to say, the most forgettable. There’s nothing wrong with presenting a set of standards, but what is the point of stripping them down to the would surface than reapplying the same old color. That’s what Marsalis is guilty of doing with such oldies as “I Got Rhythm,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it ain’t Got That Swing,” and “I’m Confessing.” Saturday evening was the first time at the Dirty Dog I saw a good percentage of the audience disinterested in the music before them. They weren’t talking endlessly while the quartet worked, but they were nonresponsive after most of the soloing. The concert wasn’t a total bust. There were moments where the BGQ displayed spunk like on “Harlem Shuffle, and “So Rare,” but those moments were few and far between. It was the kind of uninspired concert you’d likely forget about driving home from it, and wouldn’t take to Facebook to boast about. Midway through the set, I felt I made a mistake skipping the final jazz concert of the Carr Center’s season to catch Marsalis’s new band.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Nicholas Payton
Of the great jazz trumpeters from New Orleans, Nicholas Payton is my favorite. For years, the eight terrific albums he made on Verve Records were constants on my playlist. I’ve watched Payton change over the years. Years ago, he eschewed the word jazz and resented anyone who called him a jazz musician. He rebranded jazz Black American Music (BAM), and he started making more fusion-derived recordings such as “Sonic Trance,” “Numbers,” and his most recent date “Afro-Cuban Mixtape.” Gone, unfortunately, was the Nicholas Payton of old who made gems such as “Payton’s Place,” “Nick @Night,” and “Dear Louis.” Over the weekend, Payton’s trio -- bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Marcus Gilmore -- made its first appearance at the Blue Llama, a new jazz club in Ann Arbor Michigan. The club opened last month to glowing reviews. It’s an excellent place for live jazz. Friday evening the capacity crowd experienced Payton as a pianist and a vocalist. He played music from his current catalogue, including three movements from a newly composed suite. I enjoyed some of the concert but was disappointed overall. He spent most of it moving from the Fender Rhodes to the piano, and he closed the concert singing. It pains me to say he’s neither a good pianist nor singer. It appeared he’d just learned to play the piano and he was anxious to play it for whomever willing to listen. I was shocked he spent so much time not doing what he was put on earth for. That's playing the shit out the trumpet. When he did play it, his blowing was majestic. He’s still a brilliant trumpeter, and he could’ve blown the paint off the ceiling if he wanted to. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to attend the concert. I prayed he’d channel his former self and play a few cuts from his Verve recordings. That never happened. Save for some goosebumps-inducing solos from Hurst and Gilmore the concert was a letdown.

Monday, May 6, 2019


Paul Chambers
This concert celebrating the legendary Detroit bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and James Jamerson was the brainchild of the jazz drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, co-artistic director of the Carr Center. The two-hour concert was the last of the CC’s jazz season that will be held at the Detroit School for the Performing Arts. What a marvelous way to wrap up a terrific jazz concert season. To pay homage to the legendary musicians, Carrington assembled three of jazz’s most accomplished jazz bassists Detroiters Ralphe Armstrong and Robert Hurst, and John Patitucci. For added measures, the rhythm section was Carrington, pianist Ian Finkelstein, and guitarist Mark Whitfield, and the special guests were vocalists, Niki Harris, and Treaty Womack. The concert opened with Carrington calling the bassists to the stage one at a time to perform specific tunes composed by or linked to the musicians being honored. What made this concert feel authentic was each bassist shared recollections of their encounters and associations with the honorees. Hurst and Armstrong talked about studying and stealing musical techniques from Ron Carter, and Patitucci talked about having his mind blown during the formative stage of his career by James Jamerson.  Armstrong had more colorful stories, and he offered throughout the concert some comic relief. Aside from the musicians' recollections, the music for lack of a more colorful expression was smoking. The showstoppers happened when Armstrong, Hurst, and Patitucci were on stage together, and when Armstrong mimicked Jamerson’s style of playing. Other memorable moments occurred the second half of the show, which Carrington seemed to have designed for Jamerson.  Vocalists Niki Harris and Treaty Womack joined the fun singing Motown classics Jamerson helped to immortalize. The concert was the sort of authentic tribute to three Detroit greats that attendees will be thinking about for years to come. And the kind of outside the box programming Carrington has blessed the Carr Center with since signing on as co-artistic director.


Spring Quartet
It’s the latest jazz all-star group, and it’s called the Spring Quartet. Pianist Leonardo Genovese, bassist Esperanza Spalding, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and drummer Jack DeJohnette are the members. Friday night, at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall the quartet put on the best concert so far of the 2018-2019 Paradise Jazz Series. What was immediately delightful was the quartet only performed original tunes. There’re too many highpoints during the two-hour concert to list. The concert was broken into two sets. The first set, the emphasis was on Genovese the lesser known of the members but who shouldered the bulk of the workload both sets, and the multi-Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding. Genovese is an energetic pianist with traces of Ahmad Jamal’s and Cecil Taylor’s musical DNA running through his bloodstream. On the numbers which he was featured “Herbie Hands Cocked,”  “Spring Day,” and “Ethiopian Blues,” Genovese had a Simon Says command of the piano. Wonder if this group would be worth checking out if he wasn’t a member. On a different note, this concert was the first time I witnessed Spalding play like a pure jazz bassist. In fairness to her, the other times I caught her she was the leader, performing her original tunes. Spalding crushed all my earlier reservations about her being a bonafide jazz musician. She is the real deal, and it was a delight listening to her craft one delicious solo after the next. The quartet was balanced. The first set served as a warmup for the second where the quartet stretched out on several of DeJohnette’s tunes such as “Ahmad the Terrible,” and “One for Eric.” Genovese and Spalding were the standouts the first set and Lovano was consistently brilliant the entire night. DeJohnette, however, was the most breathtaking soloist when the zoom lens was cast on him.  As far back as memory serves, DeJohnette has been an exhilarating and tasteful drummer, perhaps the most tasteful in jazz. Every lick and rim shot during the concert was spot on and meaningful. The capacity audience was so lit they gave a well-deserved lengthy ovation after the concert, demanding an encore, giving the impression had the quartet refused the audience would’ve burned Orchestra Hall down. That’s the impact the quartet had.