The Detroit Jazz Festival is the world’s largest free Jazz Festival and takes place each year over the Labor Day weekend. Four stages, hundreds of artists, the Homecoming Series and the annual artist in residence (this year: Pat Metheny) all guarantee a knockout holiday weekend.
I’ve already heard some great reports and stories from this year’s festival which just ended and at the same time, a live recording from last year’s festival landed on my desk: the Mack Avenue SuperBand, which is an all-star group of artists from Mack Avenue Records, the Detroit jazz label which is home to a lot of brilliant musicians.
Musical director of the group is Detroit’s own Rodney Whitaker. The bassist has assembled six of his peers for a six-track live recording which features original compositions by most of its members. Vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who has released two albums for the label so far, wrote the very intense “The Struggle”, which opens elegantly and calm and ends up with some fierce playing, with a hot solo from Warren himself.
Rodney himself wrote the beautiful “A Mother’s Cry” where he plays a haunting bass solo at the start and where Kirk Whalum plays some ultra soulful flute. Tia Fuller is featured on soprano sax, Evan Perri from the Hot Club of Detroit is on guitar, and Carl Allen is on drums. Not to forget Aaron Diehl on piano who just recently released his own new album for the label (see review on these pages). Kirk, who is still better known for his so-called Smooth Jazz playing, always showed in his own live performances that he really has so much more to offer: from Gospel to Blues, from free-form playing to soulful strut: he has it all in his sound and approach. The track also includes a cute drum solo from Carl.
Aaron Diehl‘s contribution to the album is the longest track here: the pianist opens his “Santa Maria” with a crazy solo before it opens up to a potpourri of styles and moods and tempos. The interplay between Warren and Aaron here is superb. There is only one track which was not written by one of the band members here: Herbie Hancock‘s “Riot” opens the album (from his 1968 LP “Speak Like A Child”) on a fastidious and groovy note.
Evan has his moment on his own “For Stephane” which is a graciously delicate tune with some gypsy jazz hints and the album closes out with a spectacular and yes, bluesy “Bipolar Blues Blues” by Kirk where he really shines on tenor. Throughout the album, the Detroit crowd really seem to have a good time or, as Rodney himself puts it in the liner notes: “The Detroit Jazz Festival is one of the best live festivals on Earth to play. The audience is pushing you to play and encouraging you.”