Saturday, September 03, 2011

First night in Detroit

I’m sitting in my room as I write, although when you read this I will in the lobby of the Marriot since there is free wireless there, but not in the room. Who knows maybe I’ll splurge for the $12/day DSL in my room. It’s a little pricey, but think of the freedom.

Anyhow, with that out of the way…things are off to a good start in the ol’ Motor City. The flight was fine, no major hassles at the airport. It was a little bit of a challenge hooking up with the shuttle but it happened eventually. Met up with my press pal Jordy, got into my room and went to check out the opening VIP reception. I found out one of my musical journalist role models is not coming this year [name withdrawn to avoid embarrassment on my part and uncomfortable feeling for him if ever saw this blog]. But I did hook up with Gary Graff, a writer who lives in Detroit but grew up just a few blocks from me in Squirrel Hill. He writes about all manner of music so we ended talking less about jazz and more about things as remote as the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Just around the corner, in the middle of Downtown, stands the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage where Jeff “Tain” Watts (the Artist in Residence of the festival) was leading his Drum Club. What a club that was! Susie Ibarra moving from percussion to trap kit, Joe Locke on vibes, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on trap kit, Pedro Martinez on congas and, for the last couple tunes, Tony Allen the former co-hort of Fela Kuti. Bassist Robert Hudson [not totally sure if that name is accurate at presstime] anchored the sound.

And then there’s Tain. I mention him last because what was interesting is that he almost took a backseat to his bandmates, literally. I was sitting stage left and his trap kit was in the back corner, so when he was back there it was hard to see him. I feel like that said something about him as a leader: that he doesn’t have to be in the spotlight the whole time. He was also playing tympani early in the set too.

Joe Locke really seemed to be in the solo spotlight a lot of the time. That makes sense since he had one of the few fully melodic instruments on stage. His double-mallet work was pretty astounding. Saxophonist Rafael Stanton [not totally sure on him either; factchecking in progress] blew some pretty strong solos, on soprano, alto and tenor. On “May 15, 2011” (which Tain said was a working title and invited anyone to offer a better one) his soprano sounded kind of Wayne Shorter-like. But his alto on “Coolie Blue” was really strong, with a gruff tone. Allen joined the group on that tune, which definitely had a different feel to groove, although he seemed to be holding back a little. Maybe that’s part of his mystique though: doing a lot when it looks like you’re doing the minimum. It was definitely solid. That tune wrapped up with a quote from Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues” over what was now a funk beat, hence the title.

My quest for coffee made me lose my seat and while I met up with another good friend of mine briefly, I never did find that elusive cup of joe. But I did wind up in the very first row for Sing the Truth!, the collaborative unit of singers Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright. (Their backing band featured Geri Allen on Rhodes and piano, and Teri Lynn Carrington on drums.) It’s almost intimidating being that close to these three dynamic women, who throw everything into the performance and leave a crowd screaming. They did a few songs together but mostly each one had a solo, while the other two looked on in awe and/or sang harmonies. They were fun, but the looooooooooong, stretched out treatment of “From Both Sides Now,” was something I could’ve done without. They did it well but it wasn’t my thing. Plus, the whole audience participation thing, complete with “C’mon, I know you can do better than that” ain’t my bag either. In fact I feel lucky that Kidjo didn’t catch me nodding off in the front row. She might’ve made an example out of me.

I headed back to the hotel bar to beat the crowd, but before I did, the Sing the Truth! set was the moment when I knew that I had really arrived in Detroit.

Today is chock full of shows including the Sun Ra Arkestra, Dave Holland, Jason Moran and the band Mandrill who I’ve been told is not a show to miss.

1 comment:

barb said...

I think my buddy had pix of the SIng the Truth? show. What a stellar line-up- Geri and Terri Lyn (whom I got to say hi to at the PItt Jazz fest 2 years ago)! Wow, now I really am feeling jealous. ;) I'm glad I have some contacts through whom I can enjoy it vicariously.

PS my friend the jazz dj there can probably tell you where to get the best cup of coffee near there, besides being a jazz folk, she's also a foodie and food writer.;)