Saturday, September 19, 2009

Detroit International Jazz Festival- Day Four

Playing right now: Sonny Clark - Sonny's Crib
(The 1990 CD issue. I just noticed a lot of hiss during Clark's piano solo during "With a Song In My Heart." I wonder if that's been eliminated on new editions.)

There was a full day of Jazz Festival activities on Labor Day, but I woke up knowing that things were winding down, so there was a certain bittersweetness to the morning. That and it was starting to look like rain for the first time all weekend. I woke up early because I wanted to take one last look around the vast Marriott at Renaissance Center where I was staying. I walked down to the river to look at the water and the piped in radio was playing Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. It served as a reminder to me that said, "All this great jazz isn't going to last forever, kid. Pretty soon, it's back to Pittsburgh where it's going to be a lot of classic rock and not much else."

Most of my day was going to be taken up by panel talks. But before all that happened, there was the question of breakfast. Jordy wasn't answering his phone so I ran into Dr. Jazz in the lobby, who offered to drive me to a good diner he knew of. The trip ended up being something of a guided tour of Detroit because, with the Labor Day Parade going on, a lot of the streets were blocked off, so getting around proved a challenge. And it being Labor Day, the place where we wanted to go was closed. But the good Doctor pointed out a lot of the sites to me - the Public Library, the Institute of Art, the football and baseball stadiums - many of which were gorgeous and again, made me wish the architect had come to Pittsburgh. Eventually we found a greasy spoon with a killer omelette.

Back at the Pepsi Jazz Tent, Ashley Kahn and Bob Porter discussed the Detroit-New York Connection, talking about and playing music by Thad Jones and Yusef Lateef. Turns out Ashley's writing a book about Blue Note too. Geez, the man is unstoppable.

Across the way, Sean Jones was participating in a recreation of Donald Byrd's A New Perspective album, which had included a vocal choir and a pretty heavy gospel influence. Bassist Rodney Whitaker was leading the group. I think it was happening at the same time as the Detroit-New York talk, so I didn't make it. Wish I had, because the talk about Donald Byrd later in the afternoon dragged on a little long due to the fact that there were too many qualified voices onstage: Sean Jones, Jimmy Heath, Ashley Kahn, Gerald Wilson, to name few. Bob Porter has a great voice but sometimes his matter-of-fact delivery made some strong statements sound a little bland. And when we have this many people onstage, the snippets of music should be just that - snippets. I mean, all of us love the music but we're here at the discussion to hear talk about it. Jimmy Heath's stories about musicians and they're various cars kept things lively though. ("All Sonny Red wanted was to be able to buy a used car. A used car!")

Early in the evening Stefon Harris and Blackout were playing at Carhartt. By that time, a lot of the seats were wet from the rain, so the security guys were wiping them down for people. Beyond that, people didn't seem to mind the weather. We were all trying to get our last kicks out of the festival.

When I sat down, the group was in the middle of a Buster Williams tune called "Christina." Saxophonist Casey Benjamin was wearing one of those strap-on keyboard things that makes one think of Toto, and he was doing the vocoder thing on his voice. It dragged on a little too long and seemed more like a novelty. But after awhile the group kicked in and it sounded pretty cool. Since Black Moth Super Rainbow relies heavily on vocoder, I had to reevaluate my thoughts on the thing. I have the Harris & Blackout album, so I'll have to check out the song.

Harris himself was a wonder to watch, playing so fast that his arms looked like they were performing ballet. "Shake It For Me" had a great choppy feeling that was similar to Monk's "Evidence." During "Tanktified," which was written by drummer Terreon Gully, the group went through some rigourous rhythm shifts and Benjamin was up to his tricks again, this time putting a harmonizer on his horn so he sounded like two saxes soloing in harmony. This group was a good choice for the last day because they really offered a good example of "where the music is going."

In my review of the fest for JazzTimes, I said TS Monk's version "Off Minor" gave me goosebumps. That's not entirely accurate; I actually got a little misty-eyed when they played it. The combination of End-of-the-Festival feelings, the spitting rain and the fact that I was seeing Monk play his dad's stuff...... it was a little much. Plus the arrangement of "Off Minor" from the Town Hall Concert is pretty special to me. That's one of the first Monk albums I bought and I loved the surge of the band in that tune.

The band is technically called Monk on Monk, lead by Thelonious' drum playing son TS. And like his dad, TS isn't trying to fake it here. ("I can't jive or else my father will slap me when I get to the other side," he said between tunes.) He did his homework, making sure that the arrangements were either true to the originals, or updating them in ways that keeps their essence there but takes it to a new level. Case in point for the latter: "'Round Midnight." Everybody has done that song. It's easy to make it just a ballad. Monk "cleared it" with Max Roach and his late mother, and made it upbeat after the slow intro, using the classic code more in the arrangement, enabling the soloist to get back into a chorus for a solo. (This one was done as sextet as opposed to the big band for the rest.)

As far as good example of keeping with the original, they played the version of "Little Rootie Tootie" (which was inspired by young TS) where the whole group played a scored version of Monk's piano solo that he played in original version, released on Prestige.

Later that night in the hotel bar, I approached Monk because I had to tell him how much I dug the set. He was a gracious guy, who is clearly passionate about his father's work. In fact he sat down at a table and kind of gave a sermon to me and one other guy about the whole scope of Monk - how the critics took years to understand him but people took to him immediately; about how jazz is always boxed into different genres unlike rock; etc. It got to a point where I wondered if I was going to be listening to him all night. He only went on for a few minutes and was off with his sax player Willie Williams (like TS, an r&b player first who moved into jazz). It was a good way to finish out my trip, and worth only have three and half hours of sleep before my 5 a.m. lobby call.

Again the shuttle was on time and I got to the airport easily. Thanks, Detroit.

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