The Detroit International Jazz Fest, in its current manifestation, is so laden with major attractions that it's difficult to cull a must-see list. What seemed a reasonably big fest a few years ago has undergone a sort of big bang. So consider these just a few diverse suggestions, from major offerings to curios.
Ravi Coltrane's Tribute to Alice Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: Pianist-harpist Alice Coltrane added the spiritual aura to husband John's final musical years and continued on that path in her own musical explorations. Their son Ravi recruits pianist Geri Allen and two of his mother's musical confidants, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette, plus harp, tabla and tamboura.
Tribute to Donald Walden Sunday, 5:30 p.m., Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage: Bassist Marion Hayden anchored the extraordinary saxophonist Walden's final group, Free Radicals. Here, she reconvenes members of that outfit and brings in musicians who collaborated on key Walden projects in the past: Pianists Geri Allen and Barry Harris, and saxophonist Charles McPherson.
The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band Monday, 8:45 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: The all-star designation is not taken lightly. Musical direction by Slide Hampton; James Moody, Jimmy Heath and Antonio Hart are among the saxophones; Claudio Roditi and Roy Hargrove among the trumpets. Plus up-and-coming vocalist Roberta Gambarini.
Jimmy Heath and the Wayne State University Big Band Sunday, 2 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre; Heath Brothers Quartet (with Tootie Heath), Monday, 7:30 p.m., Absopure Waterfront Stage: "Trane was always high on Jimmy's playing, and so was I," said the late Miles Davis. The buzz need not be solely for connoisseurs, though.
Benny Golson Quartet Sunday, 6 p.m., Absopure Waterfront Stage; Temple University Jazz Band, directed by Terrell Stafford, featuring Benny Golson Monday, 4:15 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: One of the most noted jazz composers and (beyond serious fans) a much underrated saxophonist. He promises "I Remember Clifford" and plenty more hits with the quartet.
Barry Harris Trio Monday, 5:15 p.m., Absopure Waterfront Stage: The sage to a generation of Detroit musicians, he's distilled bop to an essence. With Rodney Whitaker on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.
Make It Funky Now
Swiss Movement Revisited: Javon Jackson Band with Les McCann Saturday, 4:45 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: Inviting comparisons to the original version of the classic "Compared to What."
Latin Jazz All Stars: A Tribute to Hilton Ruiz and Mario Rivera; Saturday, 9:15 p.m.: Pianist-leader Ruiz and saxophonist-sideman Rivera are remembered by heavy-hitters in their league, including pianist Arturo O'Farrill, trombonist Steve Turre and timbale wizard Pete (father of Sheila E) Escovedo.
Spangler & O'Donnell Planet D Nonet Sunday, 5 p.m., Chase Mainstage: They'll reach back to the old school's old school's old school with a tribute to Detroiter Paul Williams' 1948 "The Hucklebuck." At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Pepsi Jazz Talk Tent, Spangler, producer-commentator Bob Porter, jazz historian Jim Gallert and Detroit saxophonist George Benson will discuss the proto-rock 'n' roll classic and its enduring impact. (Jazz Tent talks on topics from Motown to organ jazz run throughout the festival. See deroitjazzfesti.com.)
Derek Trucks Band Monday, 6 p.m., Chase Mainstage: One of the most talked about guitarists to hit the scene in years builds on the legacy his dad Butch Trucks started in the Allman Brothers Band.
You heard their discs, now ...
Kenny Garrett Quartet Sunday, 7:15 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: Some cuts on his last disc, Beyond the Wall, paired him with guest saxophonist Pharoah Sanders; Garrett came through the maelstrom standing taller rather than blown away.
Hot Club of Detroit with special guest Kruno Sunday, 7:15 p.m., Here & Now Stage: Their sophomore disc, Night Town, marked them as a growing group, working to ensure that their Django proclivities don't end up pigeonholing them. This gig adds Philly gypsy guitarist Kruno.
Gerald Cleaver Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Mack Avenue Pyramid Stage: The drummer is one of the current crop of Detroiters making a big stir on mostly small labels out of New York and beyond — but too rarely heard back home. Featuring the horns of J.D. Allen, Jeremy Pelt and Andrew Bishop.
James Carter Septet Monday, 6:30 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheatre: With a larger group than usual, saxophonist James Carter channels ever more raucous (and rockin') energy into his act. That's the way it worked out on his recent disc, Present Tense, ripping the seams of conventional song form in Carterian fashion. Expect no less live.
Off the beaten path
Ted Nash Quartet; Mancini Project Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Absopure Waterfront Stage: The saxophonist-flutist's recent disc, The Mancini Project, gives the slightest nod to Mancini's broad humor (no "Pink Panther," less than two minutes of "Baby Elephant Walk" and "A Shot in the Dark") to concentrate what's wistful, moody and the romantic in his music.
ICP Orchestra Monday 3:15 p.m., Mack Avenue Pyramid Stage: While the reverential Coltrane legacy gets attention in this festival, other streams of the avant-garde are largely ignored. One exception is the 31-year-old little-big band representing a peculiarly Dutch free-jazz ethos (full-name: Instant Composers Pool) not so much led as herded by pianist Misha Mengelberg. Original drummer Han Bennink is a fount of percussive wackness.
Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey Monday, 5:45 p.m., Here & Now Stage: Speaking of percussive wackness, there's also Brazilian Baptista's outfit, apt to throw into the mix anything from doo-wop to dynamite (or at least the odd power tool).W. Kim Heron is Metro Times editor. Send comments to [email protected]