Dispatches from the Detroit Jazz Fest: Saturday

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Always polished and always swinging

It wasn’t surprising jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis put on one of the top sets at the Detroit Jazz Festival Saturday afternoon. Marsalis is an elder statesman of jazz, and he seems musically incapable of doing anything sub-par. For Marsalis’ hit Saturday he used some key lions from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: drummer Ali Jackson, saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, and bassist Carlos Henriquez. They walked on the bandstand swinging. I bet they swing while sleeping. Marsalis called some originals, and Jackson and Blanding were the most valuable players. Jackson had to bring it because he was drumming in his hometown, and Blanding is a conservative sax player by nature with a wild streak he occasionally lets free. Marsalis is a jazz conservative, and he never encouraged showboating. Special guests – trumpeter Sean Jones and pianist Aaron Diehl – added more spice to the performance. They played a slick version of “See See Rider.”

Steve Wilson & Stings

On paper Steve Wilson playing music from “Charlie Parker with Strings” sounded like a bulletproof undertaking. Wilson is an outstanding saxophonist with an impressive discography, and he’s run the streets with some jazz big shots Maria Schneider, Nicholas Payton, Mulgrew Miller, and Ray Drummond, including some great performances on past Detroit fest stages. But Wilson’s highly anticipated set at the Carhartt Amphitheatre on Saturday was a snoozer. The spirit of Charlie Parker definitely didn’t bless this performance. “April in Paris,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and “Easy to Love” were three of the tunes from the original album that were played, but Wilson didn’t do anything interesting with them.

 Latin Jazz at its finest

There no reason not to love every Latin jazz outfit on earth. That’s what was on my mind at the Absopure Pyramid Stage on Saturday listening and trying to take notes during the Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirate Troubadors’ hour-plus performance. My ink pen was dancing like mad. Vazquez played selections from his latest disc Oasis. This was Latin jazz at his purest.

Family Affair

Mack Avenue Super Band was comprised of Tia Fuller, Sean Jones, Aaron Diehl, Carl Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Kevin Eubanks, Alfredo Rodriguez and Gary Burton. That’s a lot of egos on one stage. But the Mack Avenue musicians are consummate professionals and they left their egos backstage and delivered a memorable Detroit Jazz Festival performance. Fuller and Diehl both have new albums on the way. Diehl had the audience worked up, which was a surprise because Diehl was out of his natural habitat, which is a trio setting. At times, he can be rather austere and tight – just like those beautifully tailored suits he fancies. But Diehl swung like his life depended on it. The only thing that hindered the Super Band’s set from absolute perfection was Rodriquez’s one man performance. For all its gusto and brilliance – it altered the dynamics of what his labelmates had worked their butts off to establish.

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