[JPL] Review of the Detroit Jazz Fest 2007

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Sep 5 22:47:26 EDT 2007

          Return to jazz roots makes 2007 fest one of the best

September 4, 2007



There are many reasons why the 28th annual Detroit International Jazz 
Festival was the most inspired since the event expanded its footprint 
into the downtown core in 2005. In fact, with the possible exception of 
1999, this year's festival, which closed Monday, was the most memorable 
in my 12 years in Detroit.

More than anything else, it came down to this: Organizers put their 
faith back into jazz and fresh programming ideas -- not crossover 
styles, R&B, zydeco or the same-old, same-old names and formulas. There 
was a substantial theme: the Rumble in the Great Lakes between Detroit 
and Chicago musicians. And Detroit-born violinist Regina Carter appeared 
three times as the festival's first artist in residence.

There were real-deal jazz stars on the bill like Herbie Hancock, 
progressive warriors like trumpeter Charles Tolliver and hip beboppers 
like pianist Bill Charlap's trio. More former Detroiters were on hand 
than usual, including multi-reedman Yusef Lateef, ageless at 86, who 
even played the blues Monday night on oboe. For the first time in eons, 
the avant-garde had a place at the table, and the breadth of the Detroit 
scene was better represented this year, too.

But the best thing was not just that you kept bumping into brilliant 
music but how much great stuff you missed.

On Sunday afternoon, for example, I couldn't hear what I was told was a 
fine set by guitarist Russell Malone because I was encamped at the 
amphitheater in front of Tolliver's blazing post-bop big band. That 
night, Conrad Herwig's Latin Side of Miles, Trane & Wayne -- one of the 
most compelling bands I heard all weekend -- overlapped at least two 
other appointment acts, clarinetist-saxophonist Don Byron's Tribute to 
Junior Walker and the Gerald Wilson Big Band.

So it was all weekend. Those kind of scheduling frustrations are 
actually a plus, adding the kind of overstimulation that builds 
momentum. In years past, a jazz fan could go hours without being moved 
to cheer; this year, if you blinked you missed something grand. There 
were some R&B stars in play, among them Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette 
on Monday, and there was blues and funk to be heard, but the karma of 
the festival was better because the balance was right.

Helped by spectacular weather, attendance appeared to be up sharply. 
Preliminary reports said concession sales through Sunday were up 40% 
compared with last year, and the stages were packed more consistently 
than I can ever remember. Last year's crowds were estimated at 600,000.

Not all of the new ideas fully blossomed, among them the playful 
competition between Detroit and Chicago. That was because Chicago's 
bebop tradition was nowhere to be found and because there wasn't a 
high-profile evening collaboration of players from both cities.

Still, there was only one true folly: Organizers relocated the major 
stage at the beautiful miracle of Campus Martius Park to an ugly side 
street near Cadillac Square -- something about larger audience capacity 
and better sight lines in the new space.

In fact, the resulting shoebox felt more cramped, with inferior sight 
lines for those stuck in the back, a less attractive view of Detroit's 
cityscape and sound quality generally inferior to what the park offered.

*All about the music*

So why the great leap forward this year? The festival, produced by a 
recently endowed Jazz Festival Foundation, has new leadership, with 
Executive Director Terri Pontremoli taking the artistic reins from Frank 
Malfitano. Jazz fans still owe Malfitano roses for expanding the 
festival up Woodward and broadening the programming beyond 
straight-ahead jazz and blues.

But the pendulum swung too far toward populism under Malfitano, and the 
jazz programming turned perfunctory, even stale. The opening-night 
double bill of Carter's quintet and Hancock's quartet at a jam-packed 
Cadillac Square was a fitting symbol for the new era. The past few 
festivals used Motown or R&B as a kickoff, but starting with Carter and 
Hancock gave the event a welcome jolt of the real McCoy, even if Hancock 
played up the funkier side of his personality.

Hancock's V8-powered quartet with guitarist Lionel Loueke, electric 
bassist Nathan East and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta may have been built to 
boogie, but the great pianist also found lots of room for improvisation 
in a nearly 2-hour set. The fun was watching him squeeze advanced 
harmonic and rhythmic concepts into the corners of the music without 
dampening the grooves.

As early as Saturday afternoon, there was a feeling in the air that 
something special was afoot: a reaffirmation of the Detroit festival's 
historic willingness to embrace all of the tradition without timidity or 
excessive commercialism.

Back-to-back sets at the Pyramid Stage by Detroit's Faruq Z. Bey and the 
Northwoods Improvisers, followed by charismatic percussionist Kahil 
El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble from Chicago, drove a stake through 
the mistaken notion that a festival audience can't relate to free jazz. 
El'Zabar's dynamic ensemble, which connected the dots between the 
African diaspora and earthy open-form improvisation, was a special 

The healthy afternoon crowd cheered wildly. It was the kind of music 
that people will carry with them for years, and the same could be said 
for the 2007 festival as a whole.

/Contact *MARK STRYKER* at 313-222-6459 or mstryker at freepress.com 

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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