The “cool” jazz fan has become something of a cliché at this point in time. The laidback attitude, the mumbled thoughts, the generally subdued delivery — it all represents a fan who doesn’t feel the need to go crazy about the music, at least externally.
So it got a little old last night at the opening ceremony for the 34th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival when mc’s repeatedly told the audience, “C’mon, I can’t hear you,” or “What?!” We’re here. We dig it. We don’t need to yell any louder than we already have. And maybe we’re worried about the rain. (More on that later.)
The first time I came to the Detroit Jazz Festival four years ago, pianist Danilo Perez was here with Wayne Shorter’s Quartet. Later that evening, I was privy to the info that he signed with the Mack Avenue label just prior to performing. Fast forward to this year and Perez is the festival’s Artist-in-residence, who has spent the last year teaching workshops and master classes. His group Panama 500 premiered a series of pieces blending his Panamanian roots with African counter rhythms (two percussionists in addition to trap player) and Asian melodies (violin and, later in the set, alto saxophone) played the melodies.
With audience participation being a recurring theme of the evening, the pianist insisted on having everyone sing “one note” to begin a piece, which created a chorus of atonal droning, with a few people adding operatic notes into the morass. He didn’t explain his reasoning for this, but kept pointing at us, somewhat like Harpo Marx, which kept it from getting ridiculous. At times things seemed a little tentative. Perez even admitted a few of the pieces weren’t rehearsed. But when they got into a groove, they really got into it with ferocity. Even when things were on shaky ground, the group’s energy ran high.
The idea of tenor saxophonist David Murray performing with Macy Gray might seem incredulous on paper, but these two work pretty well together. Although mention was made of them having done Ellington tunes together, the band took the stage playing music that was pure Murray. In the 10-piece horn section, the first tenor soloist (names forthcoming) squonked with the same fire as the band leader. Trumpet and trombone solos were equally far out. And after an unaccompanied baritone sax solo, the tune morphed into a blues, with Murray taking a wild and wooly solo to show how it’s done.
Then out came, Ms. Gray, a sight to see with all that hair, a red boa and a purple sleeveless dress with gloves to match. Her hit “Try” was revamped for the band and given a solid swing treatment. She sang three songs with the band, each of them reaching close to 10 minutes. While it seems a little long to keep the groove going, it did leave some decent blowing time for the horn section. With Jaribu Shahid (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums) in the rhythm section, it was no surprise either. Some of the old folks in the audience didn’t seem to dig it, as they split after the first tune.
More people made the exodus after Gray left the stage, with probably had less to do with the show and more to do with the lightning flashes which were getting closer to us. It was their loss because the band got really funky with a piece Murray back-announced as a James Blood Ulmer tune, “Talk About Jesus,” which was one of the most exciting things to be put down all evening.
As they prepared to go into the next tune, the rain hit. As I was making my way out, it sounded like they were making an announcement that the set was going to stop. But by then, it was already starting to pour and the quarter mile walk to the hotel seemed like an eternity
Weatherwise, things look cloudy but hopeful this morning. I bought a poncho just in case.