Sunday, September 01, 2013

Detroit Jazz Festival: Saturday

While walking up Woodward Avenue yesterday toward one of the Jazz Festival stages, a busking saxophonist was playing Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk." Coming back down the street a little later, a different saxophonist was playing "Take Five." I walked the block several times yesterday and was wondering if I'd pass another guy playing "Pick Up Sticks," but no such luck.

Every year when I come here, it seems like there's a set or two that gets me really caught up in the moment, like, "Okay, now I've arrived." This time it came yesterday with saxophonist JD Allen and his trio. This guy was amazing, playing tunes that had a sort of repetitive groove to them, but he and his bandmates took them to really complex places. At times it was almost like a hybrid of Motown grooviness and a Coltrane-style vision that constantly reshaped the ideas. Considering that Allen is from Detroit, maybe that's not too far off.

They played for about 75 minutes and it was almost too much of a good thing. Allen didn't stop. One tune segued into another. Drummer Jonathan Barber was an integral part of what made the group so powerful. He constantly played the whole kit, moving over it, keeping the music at a high level, spurring Allen on. Dezron Douglas gave it a strong foundation too, with some beautiful double-stops. Note to self: pick up Allen's latest album Grace.

Prior to Allen, I went to a talk by Peter Pullman, who just published a biography about Bud Powell called Wail. He was a really great speaker who helped to convey the energy of Powell's playing and talked frankly about his life. During the Q&A section, I asked a question about how long it took to write the book and how he narrowed his scope, and he complemented me on my good questions.

Pianists Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap (who are also husband and wife) played a set of duos, which had a lot of impressive interplay. They were swapping soloist and accompanist roles not just between choruses but within a few bars of each other. I particularly liked their version of Monk's "Off Minor," which kept a good feeling for the composer throughout the piece and also had the roar of his big band version of the song when they got to the bridge of the tune.

For my parent's sake, I had to check out the Four Freshman, since they are fans from way back when. If my mother was here (in Detroit, that is; she's style alive and well in Pittsburgh), she would have loved the fact that the trademark Freshman harmony was resonating off the buildings in downtown. None of the guys in the group are original Freshman. In fact none of the originals are alive anymore. But these guys have the sound down pat. So much so that I ended up catching a lot more of their set that I had anticipated.

Charles Lloyd with Bill Frisell was after that. That set provided an example of how somebody can sound understated but still play with a lot of fire. Lloyd has a unique, rich tone and plays in a kind of understated way, but it's still heavy. Getting to see Bill Frisell after years of hearing him on record was a treat. All that guy has to do is hit a chord and he has you, thanks to his unique tone.

I should have known that McCoy Tyner would draw a massive crowd and that finding a seat would be next to impossible. But immediately after Lloyd, I made the trek back down Woodward to Hart Plaza. I had to squat down by the barricade to the VIP section to get a decent view. Tyner was thundering away over a "Love Supreme"-type bass vamp. Then he brought out Savion Glover to dance with the group. It was an interesting combination, Glover's feet acting like a percussion instrument. By my legs were hurting and the trio was playing the same riff as the last song. So I kept moving.

The Saxophone Summit group was the last official group of the evening and while they were a good time, it wasn't quite what I hoped. At times the rhythm section didn't seem all together. Dave Leibman was amazing every time he soloed, but I was expected a little more from Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane. The final tune they did was John Coltrane's "India" with the younger Trane blowing some sopranino, which provided a nice contrast with Leibman. But the tempo just seemed a little too fast after awhile. That tune feels like it should be a little more languid. I'll chalk it up to sound mix on stage. Maybe they couldn't hear each other too well.

During one of the trips down Woodward, I was walking with one of the promoters and some other guy who looked like he might be a writer for some magazine. Turns out he's my editor for JazzTimes, Lee Mergner. I've written for him for about 11 years and this was the first we met. Later in the evening, I found him in the corner where I'm sitting right now and we got acquainted.

Here's JD's trio:

1 comment:

Becca00 said...

This is funny: During the Q&A section, I asked a question about how long it took to write the book and how he narrowed his scope, and he complemented me on my good questions.