Monday, February 17, 2020


Vincent Chandler
If you’ve caught any of the trombonist Vincent Chandler’s concerts over the years, you may know they are mainly structured as a showcase for the musicians in his bands. He’s always been—as long as I’ve followed his career—a selfless leader and a generous jazz educator to the many established musicians and student musicians who’ve benefited from his passion for jazz. So, Saturday evening at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History it was a pleasure to witness him take time to give himself a humungous shout-out, which he did eloquently and humorously before performing an hour-plus set of original music with six of Detroit's best jazz musicians. In his group were pianist Michael Malis, drummer Sean Dobbins, bassist Josef Deas, trumpeter Dwight Adams, and saxophonists De’Sean Jones and Rafael Statin. That’s a helluva talent pool occupying the bandstand. Before they dove fearlessly into Chandler’s multi-layered tunes, he shared with the near-capacity audience some pivotal chunks of his evolution as a musician, an educator, a son, and a husband. Don’t get it twisted, he wasn’t bragging about his accomplishments, which are considerable. The self-acknowledgment was well-deserved and meaningful. After he finished, his group torched the museum with Minor Blues for Ed Love, So What Now, Do as I Say Not as I Do, and The Essence of a Remorseful Plea. And when the group needed a minute to allow their instruments to cool off after all that swinging. Chandler's wife, an accomplished opera vocalist, floored the audience with her rendering of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday. After the audience regained its composure, the musicians returned to high-swing mode and didn’t let up. The pure reverence Chandler has for his bandmates was evident on the opening number. The solos appeared to be designed to give the audience a taste of each musician’s genius. Statin’s solo was the most memorable. He damn near blew the light fixtures off the ceiling. He’s reached new plateaus in his playing, and he’s finally purged the Kenny Garrett influence from his system. Dobbins and Deas were fabulous when the zoom lens was pointed on them. They probably understand Chandler’s musical and compositional leanings more than the others because they played and grew with him for years in the hot jazz quintet Urban Transport. There were more concert highlights than there’s room here to discuss. However, the most poignant time of the concert occurred when the group poured their souls into, I Can’t Breathe, Chandler’s artistic statement to the tragic end of Eric Gardner’s life. Chandler played brilliantly the entire concert. As a trombonist, his streetwise tone and aggressive phrasing beg comparison to Curtis Fuller. The concert was billed it as the Vincent Chandler Experience, and Chandler made sure it lived up to that.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Kris Johnson
The jazz trumpeter Kris Johnson should do everything humanly possible to keep together the band he premiered Friday night at the CUBE, comprised of drummer Nate Winn, bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton, and pianist Alexis Lombre. They proved to be a modern bop driven machine, performing some jazz standards but mostly Johnson’s originals. Johnson is an established musician, music educator, and composer. Years ago, I heard him play in trumpeter Marcus Belgrave’s Trumpet Summit at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Belgrave had assembled a group of rising jazz trumpeters from across the United States, and Johnson stood out and over time became world-class with such honors as a Kresge Fellow, director of the Detroit Symphony Civic Jazz Orchestra, and a key member in the Count Basie Orchestra. Plus, he made recordings as a leader such as “The Unpaved Road” and “Journey Through A Dream” destined someday to be jazz classics. At the CUBE, his band'S treatment of standards such as Miles Davis’ Four was impeccable, but the audience got to witness the breadth of his genius when he soared on originals such as Birth of Angel, My Apology and Morning Dance. On the latter, he blew with such conviction and such force I feared his trumpet was going to explode. There were awe-inspired moments from Lombre and Cotton, two incredible talents. Lombre brings a high grade of enthusiasm to bands she performs in, and Cotton’s understanding of his role in a band and his command of the bass is comparable to Grammy-winning jazz bassist Robert Hurst. In recent years, Nate Winn has become the finest jazz drummer around Detroit, embodying the taste and acumen that helps make Johnson’s quartet special. Lombre’s, Cotton’s and Winn’s musical genius under Johnson’s leadership made for an unforgettable concert. One of the best I’ve attended at the CUBE. Johnson would be wise to keep this quartet going.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Pianist Emmett Cohen
Hearing young jazz musicians perform with a jazz legend surely makes for a joyful concert. That’s how I felt Thursday night at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, MI, listening to the Emmett Cohen Trio with special guest Benny Golson, a saxophonist whose career spans six decades, including careers with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, the Jazz Messengers, and The Jazztet. He's also worshipped globally as one of jazz’s top all-time composers. For several years now, Cohen, an award-winning jazz pianist, has made albums under the moniker Masters Legacy Series with jazz greats such as George Coleman, Ron Carter, Albert “Tootie” Heath, and Jimmy Cobb.  Cohen established the series to celebrate the musician's contribution to jazz and to document through recordings and video interviews. At the St. Cecilia Music Center, Golson was the attraction, but Cohen’s trio—bassist Russell Hall and drummer Evan Sherman—carried the concert by rejuvenating Golson's work. Before Golson joined the trio, they performed one of Cohen’s originals, showing they have been working together long enough to understand every detail of each other's musical psyche. The trio led with the standard Time on My Hands, and Cohen's playing was vivid and genteel, equal to Tommy Flanagan's and Ahmad Jamal's style. Sherman played drums as though he’d rubbed elbows with Art Blakey’s spirit, and Hall’s bass had the audience spellbound the entire concert. As for Golson, at 90, he looked healthy, and his memory was sharp. He talked way more than he played, explaining the story behind each song performed. He did, however, warn the audience that he loves talking. The stories nonetheless were entertaining, particularly the one about how Art Blakey tricked him into staying with the Messengers longer than he planned. When Golson soloed on Blues March and Killer Joe, he channeled his younger self. Honestly, Cohen’s trio modernizing Golson’s classics would’ve made for a terrific concert by itself. Or Golson spending two-hours talking about his life in music would’ve worked independently as well. Thankfully, the trio modernizing Golson’s work and his storytelling resulted in a gratifying jazz concert.