Friday, September 18, 2009

Detroit International Jazz Festival- Day Three

Playing right now: Fred Anderson Trio - Live at the Velvet Lounge

Typically I'd say that only a fool would leave a brunch early, after just one pass through the table of eats. But hearing Wayne Shorter talk is one of the few reasons to cut out early, which is just what I did on Sunday morning. Dr. Jazz presented a nice spread, and there were a number of people there who I would have loved to chat with for a bit, but duty and legend called.

Shorter was doing a talk with Michelle Mercer, who wrote the book Footsteps: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter. (She and I had crossed paths in the elevator at the hotel the night before and she seemed like a good egg.) I had been warned that he has a habit of talking in tangents and not making much sense, and on this morning, he poured on a lot of metaphor but it all connected and made sense to me. He did mention a number of writers and scientists from James Patterson to Tesla and Stephen Hawking, but he also talked about Bud Powell too. And John Wayne. I forget if it was actually a line that Miles Davis liked or Wayne liked, but there's some western picture where a guy tell the Duke that his brother shoots really fast. And Mr. Wayne counters, "Just how fast IS THAT?!" (Read out loud and stress the last two words to get the full effect.) "That's what you do when you play," Shorter explained.

When it came time for Q&A, I asked him how he felt being approached by someone wanting to write a book about him. He stared at me for about five seconds before he spoke, which was a little intimidating. Then he told me to think about something in my life, a very significant event, something that changed my life and presented me with greater responsibilities. That was his reaction to the book idea.

As he was saying this I thought, he's talking about Donovan. He knows exactly where to get me. Damn, Wayne Shorter, you're that perceptive. Sure he was being general and I was thinking specific, but for a moment I felt kind of connected. Maybe there's more to those novels he reads than I want to believe. Regardless, I decided to ask for his autograph when the session was over, something I rarely do.

Other good Wayne quotes: "To me, the word jazz means, 'I dare you.' The idea of jazz is to dare."
"I try to take the best of the past and use it as a flashlight for the unknown. ....Uh oh [Sounds like] Star Trek!" "The greatest present we can give is to give something back."

I saw James and Julia, a couple that were on the Motown Tour, at the talk and we took some time to check out some of the local architecture, including an art deco building that now houses the First National Bank. Then we rode the People Mover, basically a sky bus that goes in a circle around the downtown area. It's pretty cool looking down, even if half the view is abandoned parking lots and boarded up buildings.

Then off to Carhartt Amphitheater to hear trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Another Detroit veteran - maybe guru would be a better term, due to all the people he's nurtured - he had Geri Allen on piano with him, along with drummer Karriem Riggins, bassist Bob Hurst and tenor saxophonist DeSean Jones. It was a killing band, in large part because of the way Riggins was driving things, throwing out weird times that sounded like four-over-five, or vice versa, on one song. He also stirred up some thunder on his toms. One of Allen's tunes, which may or may not be called "My Graduation Song," had a 32-bar structure with an unending line of notes, like post-modern bebop. Jones was pretty impressive too. I want to find an album by this band.

Then ideas were flowing in a never-ending stream from tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda over at Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage, which was like another amphitheater built into the ground with a stage set up on it. (Why didn't that architect come to Pittsburgh and try to build this kind of park for us?) I only caught about 45 minutes of Krivda's set and he had only played three tunes up that point, and even though at least two of them were warhorses ("A Night in Tunisia" and "'Round Midnight") what he played kept them new and vital. And I'm usually one to say, "Oh geez" when I hear "'Round Midnight." (Especially when the word "About" gets thrown in the title. That's the Miles album, people.) Kudos to pianist Claude Black, bassist Marion Hayden and drummer Renell Gonsalves, known with Krivda as the Detroit Connection. All of them got space to stretch out and they used it well.

In checking out these two sets, I missed out on Charles McPherson, a great sax player who worked with Mingus at one time. There weren't two many times where I had to make tough choices at the Festival, but this was one of them.

The reason I caught only 45 minutes of Krivda was that Gerald Wilson was premiering his Detroit suite that afternoon back at Carhartt. Mr. Wilson might be 91 years old, but he proved his strength and focus during the first tune, when he pushed his music stand off to the side, conducting the big band without any need for charts. Various sections of the piece reminded me of other tunes when I listened to an advance of the studio recording, but it appears that was intentional. Wilson mentioned Benny Golson before doing a section that sounds like "Along Came Betty." "Ms. Gretchen" - an homage to Gretchen Valade - really sounds like a Mingus tune with its swinging A section, and slow thoughtful B section. (Can't remember which Mingus piece, though.) During "Great Detroit River" four of the five trumpets alternated choruses, then traded fours, then twos; and the baritone saxes had a great duel. No wonder Gerald had to scream during the climax.

Before the Wayne Shorter Quartet's performance a few hours later, there was a sense of eager anticipation in the air. Seats were at a premium, even in the VIP section, where they were checking and double-checking badges (and later asking the photogs to move so everyone could see). The band hadn't played together in three months after Danilo Perez injured a tendon in his foot.

They came out onstage, pretty matter of factly and Perez started off with some thunder in the low end of the piano. At first, drummer Brian Blade, armed with mallets, looked like he was in pain, but that look shifted to joy after about ten minutes, and it stayed that way for the next 80 . In fact Blade seemed to be having the time of his life.

His drum cracks sounded like they were bouncing from the p.a. speakers to the stone walls, and the whole quartet was starting to sound louder than the whole Gerald Wilson big band. (I had a bit of a headache coming into this. But I told myself to ignore it since this is a very rare experience and to not let a headache ruin it for me. It kind of worked.)

For about the first 20 minutes (according to my time checks), Shorter played sparingly. In fact he initially seemed like he was ready to jump in, but held off, sensing things were still taking shape, and the time wasn't right. Eventually he really took off, still with some minimal quality to the situation, but proving that sometimes all you need are a few well-placed notes.

Speaking of notes, I stopped taking them after awhile. On one page, I drew a diagram that I thought might help me remember a tune. I recognized a few melodies (definitely "Go," maybe "Schizophrenia," maybe "Sanctuary") but don't hold me to them. I will freely admit that I'm not totally up on all my Shorter material. But it made me want to pull out Beyond the Sound Barrier again and just sit with it and listen, uninterrupted.

When the set was over - about 90 minutes later, with no real breaks between songs - I had to get away from live music for a bit, as did a few other people who I talked to afterwards. That group put a lot out there for us to absorb and it was still sinking in.

Back at the hotel bar, Jordy and I hooked up and he had to look for Danilo, who had been signed to Mack Avenue that night. We looked around the room and there was Mr. Perez sitting in a booth chatting with Ashley Kahn. So we joined them. Instant Party. And the young lions jamming that night weren't half bad either.

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