Star-filled lineup delivers at Detroit Jazz Festival

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Wednesday September 05, 2012

By: Mark Stryker

Star-filled lineup delivers at Detroit Jazz Festival

The best Detroit Jazz Festival ever?

Well, there’s no doubt that the 33rd annual Labor Day weekend orgy of jazz in downtown Detroit, which closed Monday night, offered the greatest collection of quality performers the event has ever seen. First-year artistic director Chris Collins aimed high and delivered, building creatively on the artistic victories achieved by his predecessor Terri Pontremoli during her landmark tenure.

It wasn’t just the starry headliners Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Joe Lovano and artist-in-residence Terence Blanchard. There was simply no filler in the lineup, and the undercard delivered at every turn, from former Detroiters Louis Hayes, Charles McPherson and Gerald Cleaver, to leading contemporary lights Steve Wilson, Larry Goldings, Ellery Eskelin, Brian Lynch and countless others.

Blessed with great weather, the public seemed to respond. I can’t remember crowds as thick as I saw all weekend at the festival. Festival leaders expected official attendance estimates today.

I think the sprawling character of this year’s event could have used a few more thematic ideas to give shape to the programming. Still, Collins implemented some terrific ideas, from an ambitious Sunday tribute to Wayne Shorter to producing a performance of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music and adding more creativity to the Detroit homecomings that play a vital role in the event’s character. It also was nice to see some long-neglected local musicians back at the festival, among them Spencer Barefield, Ursula Walker and Buddy Budson.

Here are some entries from a critic’s diary covering the fest’s four days:

Best Set, Silver Medal: Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas’ Quintet revealed charismatic chemistry and a loose and limber aesthetic that girded give-and-take among the leaders. Also notable: the flexibility of pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Joey Baron.

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