Aug 28, 2012
A four day free jazz festival in the heart of one of America’s greatest cities? Featuring Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Gary Burton, Chick Corea and more? Did I mention it was free? Count me in!
The 33rd annual Detroit Jazz Festival, presented by Chrysler, features this one-of-a-kind lineup of today’s greatest jazz performers. The performers at this year’s festival have been nominated for and won more than 200 Grammy Awards, and won a staggering number of Critics’ and Reader’s Polls in the world’s great jazz magazines. It all happens from August 31 to September 3, in and around the waterfront area of downtown Detroit, Michigan.
A very quick aside – I attended last year’s event, and found the Motor City to be an inviting, friendly and well-organized city, despite the horrid press it has received My wife and I wandered around downtown at all hours of the day (and evening) and never felt threatened or ill at ease. I have no qualms about going back again this year.
My only real dilemma is what acts to see. With four stages going strong for more than ten straight hours most days, the shear volume of talent makes for tough decision making. I ask you – is it fair to have to choose between the near simultaneous performances of Arturo O’Farrill’s Septet with Donald Harrison, Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes, the Fred Hersch Trio and the Pat Metheny Unity Band? And that’s just late Saturday afternoon!
The Festival website gives you all the pertinent information, including downloadable maps and performance schedules. Podcast 295 tries to give you an overview of what might be highlights of the Festival, including musical previews from the likes of:
Sonny Rollins – “Tenor Madness” from Road Shows. At the age of 82, Sonny Rollins (pictured above) continues to perform epic concerts, and win awards by the armful. I have never seen this legendary saxophone player, and this should be the perfect setting for a wild show. The Terence Blanchard Quintet – no slackers here - opens for him on Friday night to kick off the Festival.
Grégoire Maret – “Travels” from Grégoire Maret. I interviewed Grégoire earlier this year, and have heard wonderful things about his recent performance at the Litchfield Jazz Festival. This track from his eponymous CD is a Pat Metheny cover, a nod to his former boss.
Alfredo Rodriguez – “Cu-Bop” from Sounds of Space. One of the highlights of Saturday will be the appearance of the Mack Avenue Superband, with musical director Rodney Whitaker. This all-star collective will feature some of the label’s most high profile acts, including. Gary Burton, Kevin Eubanks, Carl Allen, Alfredo Rodriguez, Aaron Diehl, Tia Fuller, Evan Perri, Sean Jones and Cecile McLorin Salvant. Here’s a track from the talented pianist Rodriguez, who will also get a featured spot on Sunday night.
Pat Metheny – “This Belongs to You” from Unity Band. One of this fall’s biggest touring attractions will be this stellar quartet, featuring Chris Potter on sax, Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. The CD is excellent, marking something of a return to straight ahead sounding jazz for Metheny, after his (mostly) successful sonic experiments of the past few years.
Wayne Shorter – “As Far as the Eye Can See” from Beyond the Sound Barrier. For four hours on Sunday, the music of the great Shorter will be featured in three separate performances. First will be the new “Sound Prints” Quintet, co-led by saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas, which plays all-new pieces inspired by the sound of the 1960’s Miles Davis Quintet. The band is rounded out by Joey Baron (drums), Linda Oh (bass) and pianist Lawrence Fields. Next comes “A Tribute to the Music of Wayne Shorter” by the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, performing newly commissioned arrangements by Renee Rosnes, Ellen Rowe, Russ Miller, Scott Gwinnell and Walter White. Performers will include Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Wilson, Lew Tabackin, Rick Margitza, Sean Jones and Donny McCaslin. Lastly, it’s the master himself, closing the evening with his “Footprints Quartet”, featuring Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). This track comes from that group’s 2005 live CD.
Tia Fuller – “Royston Rumble” from Angelic Warrior. The prolific Ms. Fuller, who just left the road with Esperanza Spalding, will also feature multiple Festival performances and showcase a forthcoming CD. Her Monday performance is billed as an “Album Release Party”, and should feature this tune, a tribute to band mates Shamee (piano) and Rudy (drums), who also are her sister and brother-in-law. Mimi Jones fills out the quartet on bass.
Donny McCaslin Group – “Henry” from Casting for Gravity. Besides contributing to the Shorter tribute, this rising sax star will also play with Geoffrey Keezer on Saturday, and lead his fiery quartet on Monday. This comes from their forthcoming CD, which features synthesizer laced performances of new material that stomps more than it swings. The quartet is McCaslin on sax, Jason Lindner on piano, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums.