Top jazz fest picksThe Wynton Marsalis’ Quintet: The trumpeter is a right-wing jazz conservative. Love or hate him, Marsalis always delivers a great show. Detroiter Ali Jackson, Marsalis’ go-to drummer, had a good game and so did saxophonist Walter Blanding. Fundamentally, Jackson is solid, and he built a high-swing sensibility piece by piece. The Mack Avenue Super Band: This could’ve been an epic miscalculation with Tia Fuller, Sean Jones, Rodney Whitaker Kevin Eubanks, Aaron Diehl, Gary Burton and others crammed on the stage (in various combinations), trying to prove who’s the darling of Mack Avenue Records. But this Super Band never turned into a battle of egos. It was one of my favorite main stage performances. Besides, it proved that Tia Fuller is indeed a formidable voice on alto saxophone, and Aaron Diehl has an aggressive streak under those hand tailored conservative suits he sports. Uncle June: That’s the title of native Detroiter drummer Gerald Cleavers latest album, and he dedicated it and his Sunday afternoon show to his parents. For this project, Cleaver put together an ensemble with a few of his longtime running buddies like pianist Craig Taborn and saxophonist Andrew Bishop. The highlight of the hou- plus set was the suite “Fence and Post,” which was part storytelling, part free-jazz and part swing. Unfortunately, the crowd for this start-the-day main stage performance was light. Sometimes, Cleaver can be way out there and deeply experimental. I was totally into his music, but I did wonder if it would’ve worked better later in the day and/or at the Pyramid stage where free-jazz acts have historically performed.
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