Why the Detroit Jazz Festival pushes its boundaries

Free for all

Updated 4:07 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong set time and date for Pat Metheny Trio. We regret the error.

Most music festivals of any stripe are put together with an eye to maximize the youth demographic, or who Pitchfork gave the highest numbers to last year. Even if they're put together by total music fans, the need to maximize profits or appeal to corporate interests often means that the lowest common denominators win out. The Detroit Jazz Festival is put together by people who absolutely love this music, who are absolutely obsessed with it, and who aim to simply book the best jazz music. It's the world's largest free jazz festival, and this year's lineup is packed with performances to thrill fans of trad, free, fusion, Cuban, bop — and most combinations you can possibly think of all the above.

Not only are there classy crowd-pleasers like the various Pat Metheny events and the Benny Goodman tribute "Benny's Threads" event, which will only take place once and will feature new compositions by Gordon Goodwin and a host of superstar clarinetists featuring Eddie Daniels, Paquito D'Rivera, Ken Peplowski, and Anat Cohen. But you've also got a tribute to Detroit trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, late night jam sessions galore, and Danilo Perez will perform the world premiere of his Detroit World Suite. These special showings of film documentaries on Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charlie Haden alone are so rad. Then there's James "Blood" Ulmer, a tribute to Roland Kirk, the Fat Babies, Stanley Jordan, Dave Douglas, and so much more.

It might not be physically possible, but we're going to try our best to catch the mesmerizing Oliver Lake Organ Quartet, the incredible Dave Douglas Quintet, those two documentary films, Carla Bley leading the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, the Wendell Harrison Ensemble, the thing where Metheny collaborates with a string quartet, the live interview with Lake, and of course James "Blood" Ulmer & the Black Music Experience featuring Queen Esther. For more information, see detroitjazzfest.com.

As we've already highlighted the work of Ulmer last week and Bley heading the Charlie Haden orchestra this week — artists who pushed the margins of free jazz in the vein of Ornette Coleman, who both collaborated with and are inspired by, we thought we'd also give props to two great, more traditional jazz performances at the fest:

Fri., Sept. 4

Pat Metheny Trio with Kenny Garrett

@ Main Stage

International and local jazz legends team up with the Pat Metheny Trio, including Detroit veteran jazz musician Kenny Garrett. Metheny, notable for his 20 Grammy Awards and virtuoso guitar playing in fusion post-bop style, is this year's selected "Artist in Residence" at the jazz fest. Among performing in an acoustic duo and with a big-band orchestra, his trio with Garrett is the event that anchors the star down to Detroit roots. Garrett, who played alto sax with the likes of Miles Davis and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a Grammy Award-winning artist. Born in Detroit in 1960, Garrett took up sax from his dad, a carpenter who played sax as a hobby. Graduating Mackenzie High School in 1978, Garrett was catapulted into the A-list jazz scene playing sax for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Ellington's son Mercer Ellington. In 1984, Garrett produced his first album as a band leader called Introducing Kenny Garrett. Since then, his career was on fire. He has continuously made waves in the Detroit jazz scene. His 2012 album Seeds of the Underground earned him a Grammy nomination and Echo Award win for best saxophonist of the year. Teaming up with Metheny will be a sight to behold with two jazz fusion all-stars strut and improvise at the Jazz Fest.

The performance kicks off at 9 p.m.; 1 Hart Plaza, Detroit; Free.

Saturday, Sept. 5

René Marie Experiment in Truth

@ Pyramid Stage

René Marie's "Experiment in Truth" project is so great: The project takes its name from her Experiment in Truth album, released eight years ago. Marie is a seasoned and exceptional crooner with roots in Washington D.C. After the steady success of her first five albums on the MaxJazz label, Marie chose to riff on her own time with Experiment in Truth, and that improvisation paid off. A distinctively subtle album, Truth is all about the ambiance Marie creates. She weaves a web of soulful, quietly powerful vocals backed up beautifully by simplistic bass and drums, piano, and sax. This is especially clear on "Stronger Than You Think," a slinky, smoky number that crescendos into a declaration of self-prowess. And so she glides on —with the ease, the sexy carelessness of, say, Sarah Vaughan — through the rest of the compilation. She's sure to carry that characteristically rich energy to the live stage this September.

The performance starts at 8:45 p.m.; 1 Hart Plaza, Detroit; Free.