Friday, June 24, 2011

Spotlight on ex-locals: JD Allen, Colin Stetson, Sheila Jordan, etc.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM

It's gratifying to see former Detroiters getting their props in the national jazz and general press.

For example, it was good to see James Carter again on the cover of Downbeat a a bit ago in conjunction with the release of  Carribbean Rhapsody. (A great disc, by the way, including the Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra by Roberto Sierra that Carter debuted with the DSO a number of years ago; the title track, also composed by Sierra, features Carter, cousin Regina Carter and the Akua Dixon String Quartet.) We've seen recent coverage of Craig Taborn (a new ECM disc of solo piano work, Avenging Angel), and Gerald Cleaver is another name that pops up regularly. The aforementioned Regina Carter's doings, likewise, are widely noted.

But JazzTimes broke ground for us by shining the spotlight on former Detroiter JD Allen, a saxophonist garnering increasing (and deserved) attention). 

Here's how John Murph's "JD Allen: Victory of the Underdog" depicts Allen, drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Gregg August in a gig at New York's famed Smalls:

All three musicians are dressed nattily in suits and hardly break a smile — let alone take a breather for idle onstage chitchat. The nonstop hour-long set proceeds with a certain solemnity, even as the suite-like performance takes on characteristics of a hip-hop mixtape. The melodies and rhythms of originals such as “I Am I Am,” “The Pilot’s Compass” and “Sura Hinda” blend into one another abruptly. Sometimes Allen will be in the middle of a languid melody and then suddenly cut into an uptempo exercise built on a series of forceful riffs. A blistering improvisation usually follows. After the music simmers down to a low flame, the musicians leave the stage in the same manner they approached it—devoid of fanfare.

The story gives a sense of the 38-year-old's travails growing up hard-scrabble in Detroit, his discovery of jazz and the long road that's brought him to his current position, right on the cusp of, dare we say, of something big. If you been sleeping on JD, here's the chance to catch up. It won't be the last big story you'll see on him.

Also garnering much attention has been former Ann Arbor saxophonist Colin Stetson, whose record New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges we got so excited about earlier this year (read MT review). NPR recently named it one of the Best 25 discs of the year so far along with the likes of Adele and Bon Iver.

• And the University of Michigan's official alum pub, Michigan Today, offers an insightful look at jazz pianist and faculty member Geri Allen.

• Another former Detroiter getting serious attention right now is the bop-steeped singer Sheila Jordan, who often scats stories about her old running and hanging buddies in the Motor City. Along with Von Freeman, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Jimmy Owens, Jordan has been named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. Read more about the newly named masters at the NEA site.





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