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Tour Diary: 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival … And Canada!

(4 September 2012) TORONTO, CANADA — I’ve managed to eke out another week of the “Jazz Or Bust” Tour, or, as it’s now known, the “Desperately Looking For Places To Sleep” Tour. My search for a bed is taking me out of the U.S. this week to Ottawa and Montreal. I’m on a layover in Toronto as I write this. Before I say more about that, here’s a look back at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival.

I have to say that my recap of this year’s festival will not be nearly as in-depth as last year’s. This year, however, I recorded interviews at the festival, which I didn’t do in 2011. In fact, two of the three people I spoke with became third-time guests: Sonny Rollins and Donny McCaslin. I also spoke with Geoffrey Keezer, who is technically a second-timer, although his first episode hasn’t aired yet because the album it’s tied to hasn’t yet been released. (It’s a solo piano record, coming next spring.)

Donny McCaslin played in my two favorite sets at the festival — his own gig with his new current working band (Jason Lindner, Tim Lefebvre and Mark Guiliana) and his duo set with Keezer. McCaslin’s band played music from his forthcoming CD Casting For Gravity. It was full of everything I like about live music: passion, guts, energy, joy, intelligence, and RAWK. The music leapt off the stage and surged through the crowd like a herd of wild horses. I saw strings of 19-year-olds bobbing their heads and air-drumming to Guiliana’s otherworldly rhythms. Lindner has always been one of my favorite keyboardists, ever since I first heard him with Claudia Acuna about 10 years ago. He’s got such a great ear and knows how to use sound to enhance and skew the audio landscape in exciting ways. And, as I said on Twitter, Lefebvre is like the lovechild of Jaco’s chops and John Wetton’s monster 70s sound. It was more like a rock concert than the “typical” jazz show. And I loved it.

Keezer and McCaslin’s duo set was another highlight. First of all, they started with Rush’s “Limelight.” If you know me, you know that hits all my spots. They also played a tune of McCaslin’s called “M” that really grabbed me with its intricacy and exuberance. They both seemed to be having such fun on stage, and that definitely was reflected back at them by the large outdoor crowd slowly baking in the sun. Keezer is a dazzling pianist, but not dazzling for dazzle’s sake. He’s just so good that you can’t help but come away feeling like time listening to him was time well spent.

I also heard a few songs by Cecil McLorin Salvant, a French-American singer whose name I’d never heard before but who impressed me with her command of her instruent and her very real, gut-level feeling for the material she was singing, particularly a version of “John Henry.” I first heard her voice while I was eating in the food tent, and the people around me stopped talking to listen. That’s the sign of a good singer.

David Binney has been a guest on my show, and he fielded a band that made me feel like I was back home at the 55 Bar — except with more sunshine. Binney was joined by Jacob Sacks on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Dan Weiss on drums, a quartet of New York’s finest. Binney is one of those rare soloists who can bring a crowd shouting to its feet. The whole band sounded inspired. Toward the end of the set they were joined by saxophonsit Chris Potter, who would share the main stage later that evening with Pat Metheny’s Unity Band. Potter and Binney were a wonderful front line, challenging and supporting each other.

I caught the Unity Band at the main stage. The music didn’t grab me all that much (although I generally like Metheny’s writing and playing), but what did make me happy was the intense love shown by the crowd for Metheny. I wonder whether any other jazz artist commands such a truly passionate following among such a diverse group of fans — even non-jazz people. When I asked that question on Twitter, folks suggested Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock or Charlie Hunter, but I’m not sure I find any of those names convincing. There’s just something about the ubridled love that Metheny’s fans throw at the stage that puts me more in mind of Clapton devotees than Herbie fans.

Here are a few more photos:

A massive triple big band from Michigan State University that would have impressed Stan Kenton with its size:

Seas of people digging the music:

David Binney’s case, backstage (I just like this photo for some reason):

My quiet space in the hotel:

I should mention that, just like last year, the festival brought me there and put me up in a hotel. Huge thanks to everyone who made that possible. It really is a wonderful festival in a great city.

This morning I took the tunnel bus from Detroit to Windsor and caught a Greyhound to Ottawa. I’m staying in Ottawa till the 9th, when I leave for Montreal for two days. Then I head back to NYC, where a kind member of the show has offered me a futon for a bit. Then I don’t know what’s going to happen. If you’d like to help out, please join The Jazz Session.

Published in Jazz Jazz Or Bust Tour Music


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