Changing of the Guard: The 33rd Annual Detroit Jazz Festival
The energy from the crowd was palpable as Metheny made his way to the stage, 42-string Pikasso guitar in hand. A brief proclamation on this instrument would lead into Williams's bass intro to "Come and See," Potter's bass clarinet further strengthening the bottom end. The hard rock cum Irish folk melody of "Roofdogs" was up next and it kicked the proceedings into overdrive, Metheny's wincing face accompanying the artillery fire of his guitar synth riffs.
Over the course of eight numbers, Metheny fleshed out several pieces from the group's album, a considerable document in and of itself, providing an even fuller treatment to the material. On the tune "Signals," he even brought with him some of the robotic instruments of his orchestrion, which he has somehow rigged up with computers and electronics. As for the encore, it was wholly appropriate to let loose with "Are You Going With Me?," Potter's alto flute mixing nicely with Pat's guitar synth. As Metheny set free his closing cadenza on one of his most iconic pieces, one wished time allowed for more.
The rest of the evening's schedule would allow for not much more than a smorgasbord approach to listening. There would be time to hear a few numbers from Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas and their group called Sound Prints. Contrasts served this ensemble nicely. Lovano blew fiercely, and was balanced by Douglas's more lyrical approach. Pianist Lawrence Fields spoke with a clarion touch, while drummer Joey Baron seemed to throw abandon to the wind.
Over at the Pyramid, it was time to blow out the candles for clarinetist Charlie Gabriel's birthday bash featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Pure intemperance and some occasional chaos accompanied this set, the stage crew certainly earning their money as they tried to keep the microphones in place for the rotating cast of characters taking the stage. Both Marion Hayden and Marcus Belgrave sat in, delivering typical mainstream fare. Then the Nawlins bug bit and the second line grooves started to flow, a perky "New Orleans" bringing out the best in everyone. Especially fun to watch was Ronell Johnson, who strutted and swayed with his tuba, delivering some of the most complex runs to be heard on that most unwieldy of instruments.
Rounding out the evening would be a Latin set by Poncho Sanchez over at the Waterfront and the Wayne Shorter quartet at the Amphitheatre. This reviewer opted to check out the two artists missed during the Metheny set earlier in the day. In the lobby of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, both Arturo O'Farrill and Brian Lynch would offer performances with a jam session that was slated to run into the wee hours of the morning. The Volt Bar started to fill up a good hour before any of the action was slated to start and once the music got underway, it was strictly standing room only.
The first few numbers by O'Farrill bristled with excitement, drummer Vince Cherico holding down the groove with finesse. Then the jam session kicked in and several youngsters stepped into the fray. This reviewer even got a chance to sit in on congas for four or five numbers. The late show brought in Lynch and his group with the highly underrated Rob Schneiderman on piano. A few more students made the scene, but then Lew Tabackin joined the fold followed thereafter by Chicago vocalist Tammy McCann. Adding to the fun, Detroit trumpeter Etienne Charles eventually paired with Lynch and the two obviously enjoyed spurring each other on during their solo spots. It would be one of the best jam sessions of the festival in recent memory.
By contrast with the rest of the weekend, Labor Day's offerings seemed somehow almost anticlimactic. Saxophonists Kenny Garrett, Donald Harrison, and Donny McCaslin each weighed in with their own individualistic approaches, but time was ticking away for this reviewer, who was due back to Cleveland by late afternoon.
So with his first year under his belt, it seemed that Collins had more hits than misses. Crowds were healthy and enthusiastic. And with Carhartt's continuing support and Chrysler coming aboard as a new sponsor, the future looks bright for this Labor Day tradition and American treasure.
C. Andrew Hovan