High notes

There are all flavors of jazz at the 27th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival, and that's not even a pun on the Food Network Village, a new attraction that will apparently include pastry chefs building "outrageous jazz-themed cakes." Dizzy's cheeks rendered in devil's food? Kind of Blue ... Frosting? But seriously, the talent, tradition, tributes and types of jazz represented at this year's fest are impressive. Here are a few things we think are partiuclarly worthy of seeking out.

The stars

Now 76, pianist Ahmad Jamal proved with 2005's After Fajr that his patience, grace and hunger as a player haven't diminished a bit. He performs with regular sidemen Idris Muhammad and James Cammack (9:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, on the Amphitheatre Stage). Singer-songwriter Richie Havens doesn't seem to have stopped playing festivals since Woodstock in 1969. He still plays an open D-tuned acoustic guitar and sings in a deep, rangy voice that would be sorrowful if he weren't so often singing about joy. Fellow Sunday headliner Marcia Ball hasn't slowed down either. Her gumbo of blues, jazz, zydeco and boogie-woogie always satisfies live — a hot tamale, baby.

The songbirds

On the Chase Campus Martius Stage will be Rachelle Ferrell (7:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2) and Catherine Russell (3:30 p.m Sunday, Sept. 2). Stylists in the tradition of Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson, they interpret the threads between jazz, blues, R&B and pop in wildly unpredictable ways. Ferrell has recently been showing up as a guest on records like India.Arie's Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship.

D-Town roots

Drummer Lewis Nash was part of the Tommy Flanagan Trio on recordings including the 1990 Tireman Ave. memoir Beyond the Blue Bird, so he's a fitting candidate to lead a tribute to the late pianist. He'll be joined by bassist Peter Washington, pianist Renee Rosnes and vibes man Steve Nelson (5:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, on the Absopure Waterfront Stage). Speaking of vibraphone, Monday's tribute to Detroiter Milt Jackson will feature vibist Joe Locke, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker. The Jackson tribute is followed by the Detroit Jazz All Stars, featuring pianist Barry Harris, and later, Detroit-bred Kirk Lightsey and Bennie Maupin (on piano and reeds, respectively) hook up on the Chase Campus Martius Stage.

D-Town now

Hot Club of Detroit's self-titled debut was released in August on Mack Avenue Records, making the young Django Reinhardt devotees the first local act to sign with the Harper Woods-based label. Regulars at low-ceilinged places like Cadieux Cafe and Cliff Bells, it'll be interesting to hear how their fluid — if a bit too studied — sound goes over in a festival setting (3:15 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4, on the Absopure Waterfront Stage). Tumbao Bravo aren't strangers to local clubs, either, and on Sunday they'll bring their interpretation of Afro-Cuban jazz to the Boogie Bayou Stage. For a cue for the future, check out high school and college jazz ensembles all weekend on the Music Hall Jam Academy Stage.

Latin and fusion

Brazil's tourism board should seriously consider making Brasil Brazil its official spokesgroup. Led by vocalists Sonia Santos and Ana Gazzola, the combo looks, sounds and moves like a carnival float that veered off course and into your life (4:30 p.m., Saturday Sept. 2, on the Amphitheatre Stage). Don't remove your Ronaldinho yet. Masterful Brazilian jazz guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves takes the stage later, and Sergio Mendes and Brazil 2006 headlines the night.

Fated genius and pioneering fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius is paid tribute Sunday night with the Word of Mouth Big Band, led by bassist Will Lee, whom you might recognize from the Late Show with David Letterman (8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, on the Absopure Waterfront Stage). Lee also joins guitarist Hiram Bullock (another veteran of Dave's Peacock Network tenure) Saturday. On Monday, transforming Hart Plaza into a miniature Zappanale, will be arranger-bandleader Ed Palermo, who has been performing Frank Zappa's music for more than a decade. Authenticity alert: Napoleon Murphy Brock sits in.

The language of jazz

The conversation started by the festival's performances continues in the Jazz Talk Tent with presentations, panel discussions, and artist meet 'n' greets. Resident experts Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert host talks, including "Detroit Jazz Before Motown" (12:30 p.m. Sept. 2), and on Sunday and Monday panel discussions will delve deeper into the legacies of Jaco Pastorius and Frank Zappa. Also, if you've ever wanted to meet Bennie Maupin, Kirk Lightsey or Mose Allison, the Jazz Talk Tent will give you your chance.

Johnny Loftus is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]
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