North America’s largest free jazz festival is one of the most heavily attended jazz festivals in the world. This year’s extravaganza is, typically, jam-packed with a Who’s-Who of internationally acclaimed jazz artists. Most notable are:
Friday, August 30:
Straight Ahead. The all-woman quintet led by bassist Marion Hayden is Detroit-based and internationally renowned. They recorded a trio of albums for Atlantic and served as a launching pad for violinist Regina Carter.
Mavis Staples. Of the Staples Family fame, she is a powerful vocalist with an appreciation for everything from Mahalia Jackson inspired gospel to funk (she recoprded for Prince’s Paisley Park label in 1989). Her latest is "Only for the Lonely."
Leroy Jones. From New Orleans, the Harry Connick, Jr. veteran trumpeter plays trad jazz in the Armstrong mode.
Astral Project. They’re described by some as a New Orleans-style Weather Report, The latest project, "Big Shot" is as adventurous as it is fun.
David Sanchez Quintet. The tenor saxophonist played with Dizzy 15 years ago and his reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since. Works under his own name for Sony (the latest is "Travesia") are among the most exciting straight-ahead works of the decade, and his stints with Latin-jazz icon Eddie Palmieri give him added salsa and sizzle. Merely calling him fiery doesn’t do him justice.
Legends of the Bandstand. These "legends" are none less than former Jazz Messengers trombonist (and Detroit native) Curtis Fuller, drummer (and Detroit native) Louis Hayes, pianist Cedar Walton and saxophonist David ‘Fathead’ Newman. You can bet this will be the most attended set on the weekend.
Saturday August 31:
Frank Morgan Quartet. One of the great alto players of all-time has been re-building his reputation over the past 20 years, or so. From his "Bop Lives" (Contemporary 86) to "Bop" (Telac 96), there’s never been doubt where the man some said was Charlie Parker’s equal hung his heart. Having watched this genius play half a dozen times, he is one of the major recommendations from this pen.
Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Quintet. Drummer Watts has worked with the Marsalis brothers and McCoy Tyner and is widely hailed as one of the premier drummers in jazz today. His latest CBS disc is "Bar Talk."
Branford Marsalis Quintet. Saxophonist Marsalis has just released the extraordinary "Footsteps of Our Fathers" on Marsalis Music/Rounder Records. Not only does he pay homage to his musical forbearers in breathtaking versions of Ornette Coleman’s "Giggin’ ", Sonny Rollins’ "The Freedom Suite", a 60-second teaser of John Coltrane’s "A Love Supreme," and John Lewis’/MJQ’s "Concorde," he proves himself heir. It’s the writer’s favorite new jazz release of the past few months, but the live show is always superior to the discs. Marsalis and his mates (Eric Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, drums) will be one of the biggest draws on the program.
Sonny Fortune. The Philadephia-born also saxophonist/flautist worked with Miles and Dizzy before building a solid reputation in the 1970s. His "In The Spirit of John Coltrane" from 2000 on Shanachie stands as one of his best sessions.
Giacomo Gates. East Coast vocalist Gates has been described as a cross between Lord Buckley and Eddie Jefferson. His latest entry is "Laying It Down." Hipsters will surely be in attendance.
Toby Foyeh & Orchestra Africa. This is a 20-piece from Nigeria. Dancing shoes required.
Sunday September 1:
Regina Carter Quintet. Regina is a Detroiter and her "Motor City Moments" on Verve speaks to that fact eloquently. One of the premier jazz violinists in the world, this will be one of the most heavily attended sets of the weekend.
Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio. The good doctor is a show-stopping organist who got early experience with George Benson and Lou Donaldson in the 1970s, though Blue Note recordings under his own name proved he was their equal. The man they call The Turbanator (due to his penchant for wearing a turban) has done everything from straight ahead greasy organ to a pair of tributes to Jimi Hendrix.
Mark Whitfield. The George Benson protégé is an extraordinary guitarist who has been garnering positive critical and popular reviews over the past decade for good reason. His recordings, starting with the excellent "The Marksman" (WB 90) to the latest "Raw" (Transparent 00) point to one of the most satisfying straight ahead jazz players on the scene.
Roy Ayers & Ubiquity. One of the most popular vibes players of the 1970s, Ayers worked with the likes of Gerald Wilson and Chico Hamilton before going on his own. He recorded with Herbie Mann on the classic "Memphis Undeground" continues to combine bop with R&B and world-beat grooves.
Monday September 2:
Geri Allen Trio. The fearless pianist Geri Allen is a Detroit native who is comfortable playing the music of anyone from Oliver Lake to Jimi Hendrix to her mentor, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Largely Herbie Hancock-inspired, she has worked with Steve Coleman, Betty Cater, Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman.
Joey DeFrancesco Trio. There are those who will call B3 player DeFrancesco the baddest organist in the world. The Philly-bred Jimmy Smith-inspired player isn’t a shabby singer either!
Pete Fountain. Fountain = Clarinet. He’s been at it for more than half a century. Originally inspired by Benny Goodman, these days, he the reigning King.
Oliver Lake. The founder of the World Saxophone Quartet has recorded more than a dozen albums over the past 20 years. The avante-garde saxophonist and flautist has worked with a steel quartet and has recorded reggae. He’s not one to be pinned down, to say the least.