Saturday, August 30, 2008

HOW SWEET IT IS

Posted on Sat, Aug 30, 2008 at 10:56 AM

You should never attend any jazz performance --especially one headlined by multi-Grammy winner vocalist Dianne Reeves and native Philadelphian bassist Christian McBride -- on an empty stomach. You’ll need the fuel because chances are you’ll be dancing non-stop during both sets. With that in mind, Friday evening, after I picked up my media credentials for the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival, I dined at my favorite Thai restaurant, the Orchard Thai, located on Monore St., next to the men clothing store, Hot Sam’s. The food there is plentiful, tasty and inexpensive.


I ordered Pad Pak with steamed tofu minus the water chestnuts. Then I went to the restroom to wash my hands. When I returned to the table, my entrée and the diet soda I ordered were waiting for me. I wolfed down the food because the dynamic Detroit native Reeves was scheduled to perform at 7p .m. I wanted to be on time.


As I exited the Thai restaurant, an imposter claiming to be "homeless" accosted me, trying tried to sell a tiny American flag that he'd attached to what appeared to be a toothpick. He offered to give me one for a small donation. Normally, I would have obliged, but he was the fittest and cleanest homeless person I’ve ever encountered. I declined; then walked by him.


I arrived at the Chase Main Stage at 7 p.m. sharp. But Reeves set started late. so I ventured backstage. There, I talked with the volunteer who'd chauffeured Reeves to the gig. I told her this was the first time I'd be heaing the vocalist live, and I asked her if Reeves was an attitudinal diva. The volunteer said Reeves is "a sweetheart." That's nice because Reeves has always struck me as down-to-earth; if you approached her at, say, at a supermarket, she might converse with fans.


Reeves set eventually started 40 minutes late, but the capacity crowd seemed unfazed by her tardiness. They greeted her with a standing ovation when she finally walked onstage. Mid-way through the opening number, Reeves stopped singing to talk about presidential hopeful Barack Obama while her rhythm section played on behind her. When she finished sharing her opinion and praise of the senator, she resumed singing and scatting. Reeves covered jazz standards, R&B classics and even a gospel ditty. The crowd went nuts when she sing “Just My Imagination,” the song immortalized by the Temptations and tying into the fest's Motown-Philly summit theme. Reeves had the audience fired up, paving the way for bassist Christian McBride, the festival artist-in-residence, to take over.


As the musicians McBride handpicked set up for the tribute to the late Marvin Gaye, the audience watched vintage footage of the soul crooner in concert and being interviewed by Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand. This was an enjoyable way to keep the audience from growing restless during the time McBride set up.


The tribute featured three wonderful musicians from different genres -- jazz vocalist Jose James, R&B wunderkind Rahsaan Patterson and neo-soul siren Lalah Halthaway. Each performed three selections from Gaye’s considerable discography.


Newcomer James performed first and had the mannerism normally associated with hip hop artists. His style was sort of rapper Li'l Wayne meets Kurt Elling. Backstage, I even overheard someone say James "is the next Kurt Elling." And I totally agree.


Of the three featured vocalists, Patterson worked the audience best although he felt it necessary to chastise himself because he forgot some of the lyrics to the first song he performed. He redeemed with himself, however, with flawless renditions of "How Sweet is to be Loved By You,” “Trouble Man,” and "Hitch Hike." By the time, Hathaway sashayed onto the stage, people were dancing and sweating like they were at a crowded basement party.


Hathaway received the most applause of the three. The audience didn’t care that she mumbled more than she sang. James and Patterson joined Hathaway on the final selection “I Heard It Through the Grapevine," with their diverse styles mixing perfectly. It was surprising, though, that McBride, who wrote all the charts, didn’t solo. He just sat on a stool, strumming away.


The tribute to Gaye would’ve been nearly perfect if Fox 2 News journalist Charles Pugh had been the master of ceremony instead of ex-Detroit Lion Lem Barney. Dressed in a pinstriped suit and his customary stiff felt derby hat, which gave him the appearance of an English butler, Barney yelled and rambled like a football coach trying to motivate his winless team. A women seated behind me commented: “You know, that guy is really starting to get on my nerves." --Charles Latimer




Detroit native Reeves: paying tribute to the Tempts...


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