Monday, September 02, 2013

Detroit Jazz Festival - Sunday

Translating pop music into jazz is dangerous territory. The source material isn't always built for greater harmonic or melodic interpretation. The result often lead to a few choruses of a simple melody with a little bit of embellishment and a hope that listeners will remember the original songs.

Several jazz musicians have interpreted the Beatles and they usually fall short. Unfortunately, guitarist Bill Frisell fell into that category yesterday as well. His All We Are Saying Project, an exploration of John Lennon tunes, had some moments of bliss, but too much of it was stuck in a slow, Pink Floyd-like tempo in which drummer Kenny Wolleson was content to do the Ringo shtick (bobbing in his seat like the affable drummer as well) instead of putting more of his own thing into it.

Every song had a long, undulating intro which was fine initially, when the group unfolded "Across the Universe." But a slow 6/8 riff had me worrying for a couple minutes, "Oh, no, they're not doing 'Working Class Hero,' are they?!" (It turned out to be "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away.") Then it seemed to happen with every song. "Come Together" felt turgid, "In My Life," not much greater.

When the group (filled out by violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Tony Scherr, pedal steel whiz Greg Leisz) did the post-Beatles song "#9 Dream" things clicked, since the song has several distinctly weird parts and a melody that's dreamy and rich. Leisz did some nice howling too. The same held true for "Strawberry Fields Forever" which like the opening of the set, had Frisell imitating the backwards guitar sound of that John and George perfected the old-fashioned way. Frisell cleverly closed the set with a rubato take on the project's complete lyric rather than launching into a whole "Give Peace A Chance." It provided a suitable ending, but too much in between felt a little thin.

Prior to their set, the Carhartt Amphitheater hosted a tribute to a Detroit native son, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. Three baritones shared the stage: Gary Smulyan, Howard Johnson and Frank Basile. The set focused on solo spotlights and unison themes, but it was great hearing those three horns coming together. Highlights included a Duke Ellington medley of "Lotus Blossom," "Chelsea Bridge" and "Sophisticated Lady," with each guy taking a turn. Basile was clearly the youngest guy of the bunch, Johnson know not only for his baritone but for his tuba work on hundreds (maybe) of albums. Smulyan is becoming synonymous with this festival in my eyes, probably because of 2011's Dave Holland Big Band show in the Marriott bar.

Then it was off to see Warren Wolf, who was astounding on the vibes and marimba. The part of his set that I saw drew on classical and the influence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, but there was plenty of space for some rapid runs down the vibes. "Wolfgang" was a highlight, where he brought up pianist Aaron Diehl. Things started slow and pensive before shifting to a blue and syncopated groove.

Dave Liebman was back, this time with his friend/pianist Richie Beirach. More about them after today, because they're playing with their band Quest. Lee Konitz was a gruff but engaging fella in a talk and performance with his collaborator Dan Tepfer, in the Jazz Talk Tent. When it sounded like someone was tapdancing outside the booth, Konitz stopped what he was doing, walked to the back of the tent to go out and find the offender and silence them. He didn't find them but the noise did stop.

Later in the evening, I tried to get back to the below ground Pyramid Stage to see the Cookers, but couldn't get close enough to even see the band. I was tempted to hang out and just listen because they hit with a bang and sounded solid. But I really wanted to get a good seat for Ravi Coltrane so sitting there and waiting seemed like the best bet.

And Coltrane was great. He had Dezron Douglas on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, and those two were locked into each other. David Virelles, who keeps popping up everywhere (his own Pi album, on Chris Potter's last ECM disc) and he was good here. Their set seemed to fly by, and I could've gone for more. The final piece of the evening was a crazy re-imaging of Charlie Parker's "Segment," which not only had Coltrane on sopranino, but had the bass and drums playing a 5/4 ostinato. Nuts.

Speaking of nuts, that was the scene at Volt, the Marriott bar last night. There were too many people here and the fire marshall came. They seemed pretty cool and laidback, but the music was shut down and everyone drifted back to their room after midnight.

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