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.