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Concert Reviews:
Chick Corea, Hank Jones Open Detroit Jazz Fest

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Saturday, September 5, 2009

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DETROIT -- The Detroit International Jazz Festival eased into its 30th year on Friday night (Sept. 4), with performances by piano masters Chick Corea and Hank Jones that simmered rather than soared.

That's not to shortchange the accomplishments or artistry of either musician and their respective trios, of course. Both are paragons of taste and craft, nimble and nuanced in their deliveries. And both were in fine form before a packed crowd in front of and around the Chase Main Stage near Campus Martius Park, but neither set reached the level of transcendence.

That might have been expected more from Corea since he was joined by bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White -- three-quarters of the celebrated fusion supergroup Return To Forever. On Friday they played acoustic -- making it up as they went along, Clarke said backstage before the show -- and filled the 75-minute concert with enough flashes of virtuosity to send everyone home satisfied, if nothing else.

Corea drove the opening number, the early Return To Forever track "500 Miles High," while Clarke shined on his own "After the Cosmic Rain." Corea and Clarke traded licks on Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," and the trio also recreated the Gershwin composition "I Loves You, Porgy," touching on elements of the version White produced for singer Chaka Khan. The encore of Corea's "Spain," meanwhile was playful, culiminating in a call-and-response between his piano and the audience.

Jones, of course, barely needed to play a note before feeling the love from the jazz fest crowd. The 91-year-old artist, who began his career in Pontiac, was presented with a citation for career achievement before the show and commanded the respect and attention due anyone with his kind of long and storied life. (Corea even watched from side stage.) And though the rhythmic dynamic seemed a bit off (Carl Allen, who played Friday, is not Jones' regular drummer), Jones kept his reputation intact throughout his 80 minutes on stage.

Sticking mostly to mid-tempo pieces, Jones, Allen and supple bassist George Maraz offered a wide repertoire that included Charlie Parker's Au Privave," Wes Montgomery's "Twisted Blues," Jones' own "Interface," Mraz's "A Child Was Born," J.J. Johnson's quiet "Lament" and "Lady Luck," which was co-written by Jones' late brother, trumpeter Thad, and recorded by his other late brother, drummer Elvin. The inclusion of the latter was particularly important since this year's festival is sub-titled "Keeping Up With The Joneses" in tribute to the three siblings.

Jones and company finished with a breezy traipse through Monk's "Round Midnight," a nod from one jazz giant to another on a night when mere presence and past accomplishments were enough to forgive any shortcomings.

The 30th annual Detroit International Jazz Festival continues through Monday (Sept. 7) between Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. Visit www.detroitjazzfest.com for schedules and information.

Web Site: www.detroitjazzfest.com

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