Tuesday, September 8, 2009

WAYNE'S WORLD

Posted on Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 8:57 AM

Last year, I attended saxophonist Wayne Shorter's concert at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. It was a weird evening. Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patitucci played for nearly two hours straight. Shorter never introduced the band or the music they performed during that show. And they walked off the stage at the conclusion without even acknowledging the audience.

The music they played seemed esoteric and overly self-indulgent. I was so pissed, I contemplated burning all the Shorter albums I own. I shared my experince with a friend. She remarked that I seemed most disappointed because Wayne did not perform any of the music he recorded for Blue Note Records. She was right, of course. Shorter came of age in Miles Davis' band and Davis raised the musicians in his band to never look back.

Whereas Shorter's concert a year back was unusual, his performance Sunday evening at the Detroit International Jazz Festival was magical. The quartet played a suite that had traces of some of the fine compositions Shorter wrote back in the '60s. Last evening, the quartet did not take an intermission or even a drink of water. They were tight-knit like four friends building a science project.

On the tenor saxophone, Shorter’s phrasing was powerful and concise. There were no protracted flights of improvisation. The musicians simply fed off each other. Perez dug into the piano as if he was searching for gold. Instead of merely walking the bass, Patitucci danced with it. But Brian Blade was the most valuable player. Mid-way through the suite, Blade was drumming so ferociously that I thought he was going to blow a gasket.

Detroit is principally a be-bop town. Thus, I thought Shorter's music would be too heavy and out there for them to grasp. But to my surprise, the capacity audience stuck with the quartet from start to finish. After the rather lengthy ovation, the crowd begged for an encore. In short, Shorter's performance was the icing on the cake following a great day of music.

I am thankful after listening to the Wayne Shorter quartet outside in Detroit on a wonderful day that I did not burn those albums.

This was the first time in the many years that I've been covering the festival that I didn’t experience one bad performance. In addition to Shorter's amazing turn, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave performed a set with some of the best Detroit bred musicians, including bassist Robert Hurst and pianist Gerri Allen. The trumpeter readied the crowd for yet another great set by the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

Wilson’s Orchestra has been a mainstay for the past four years -- but each year, the band gets better. On Sunday afternoon, Wilson paid homage to Detroit by premiering music from his soon to be released album, Detroit. Wilson is older than Moses these days -- but he still embodies the spunk of a man half his age.

At the Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage, tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda almost blew the sun out the sky. Krivda is one of the many stellar, old school tenor players bred in Detroit, and it was awesome seeing he’s still at the top of his game.(OK, well, Krivda, is actually from Cleveland, but we'll still claim him as a fellow regional cat.)

And alto saxophonist Charles McPherson gave the crowd at the Absopure Waterfront Stage a lesson in Detroit style be-bop. McPherson has been in the game now over four decades. And he’s still honoring be-bop founder Charlie Parker with every note he plays.

Pianist Gerri Allen performed after McPherson, presenting her quartet that included a young tap dancer this time around. The dancer emulated each note Allen and the drummer played with his feet. Allen always offers something fresh and unconventional. Sunday was no different.

It was great day at the festival. The musicians and bands once again demonstrated why Detroit is such revered jazz hub.

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