Motor City Day One

For the last weekend, I was in Detroit Michigan, celebrating Labor Day the best way I know how, with the Detroit Jazz Festival.

It’s a cool festival for three reasons:  Firstly, it’s entirely free and there is also a jazzfest rate for the Ren Cen, so if you share a room with four people, you’re looking at 100 dollars for four days of amazing jazz.  Add food and gas and you’re probably not going to break 200 bucks if you’re smart.  Secondly, although it doesn’t completely cover each genre in a fair representation, it comes pretty close.  There is always one way-out show(not too out…), both modern and traditional styles are fairly represented, and there is a great connection with the Motown lineage of Detroit.  Thirdly, the festival always does some focus on local and regional talent.  The midwest jazz heritage (my own, as it so happens), is always strongly emphasized.

The first night happened kind of quick, we got in late due to (what else but) a burning car on the highway, so we got to the first concert directly on the downbeat.

Jeff “Tain” Watts was the artist in residence, so I got to see him play three times in three days, and do a blindfold test to boot.  The first concert was a percussion potpourri, featuring many brilliant and ridiculous drummers, like Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Tony Allen, longtime drummer for Fela Kuti.  Joe Locke was on Vibes and Detroit native Robert Hurst was on bass.

What can you expect from a show with five drummers?  Strangely enough, not constant drum battles(which was what the darker side of me was always hoping for).  The grooves were some of the most complex I’ve ever heard, feeling like a huge Latin American percussion section more than anything.  Tain played Timpani and Marimba for part of it, both of which were interesting.  He later said that the reason he got the ensemble together was in part because he missed playing timpani and needed an excuse to start up again.

I’m still not one hundred percent sure if I liked this ensemble’s music or not. It was a cool show and I’m glad I saw it, but the jury’s still out for me.

The second and final show of the night was Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo, and Lizz Wright and the best female artist working on each instrument, Geri Allen on piano and rhodes, Terri Lyne Carrington, and James Genus(Esperanza was busy?).  Lizz was soulful and churchy, Angelique did some cool traditional african tunes, but it was Dianne’s party.  You can’t get those three together without noticing that Dianne’s range is about four times the size of the other two’s, and that she has a lot more genres under control.  That being said, she didn’t really play into my hand.  There was exactly no swing from her, and the grooves were great, but mostly given to Lizz Wright.  Geri was spectacular, giving us at least one crazy chromatic pentatonic line each solo just to remind us that we were listening to Geri Allen, and James sounded great too, soulful and rhythmically entrenched.  It was the repertoire that didn’t kill me.

Day two tomorrow.  Shows this weekend: Geri Allen w/ Jeff Tain Watts at the Vanguard, Tim Ries with the Dave Liebman Big Band at Birdland, and maybe some Johnny O’Neal after hours at smalls to round it out.  May get myself into another Jam situation as well.

“There’s probably thirty or forty people that are killing in NY that you’ve never heard of, actually.”
-Tim Ries, telling me that I don’t know anyone in this band other than him, Liebman, or Vic Juris.(Thanks Tim…)



~ by Martin Porter on September 8, 2011.

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