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Concert Reviews:
Detroit jazz fest gets off to hot start with "Tain," Truth!

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2011

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DETROIT -- The 32nd Annual Detroit Jazz Festival didn't have any trouble getting off to a hot start on Friday (Sept. 2). Blazing sunshine and near triple-digit temperatures saw to that.

Fortunately the music -- from this year's Artist in Residence and an all-star trio of female singers -- followed suit.

It was, in fact, a pair of brilliant sets that kicked things off on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage on Friday. Following a Second Line parade around Campus Martius Park by the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Jeff "Tain" Watts led an electrifying Drum Club performance spotlighting five other percussionists -- and particularly vibraphonist Joe Locke, whose melodies highlighted nearly every piece the troupe played. Venerable Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Tony Oladipo Allen lived up to his special guest billing on two pieces, while a pair of Detroiters -- bassist Bob Hurst and saxophonist Rafael Ricky Statin -- provided sonic variety for the rhythmcentric outing.

Watts' Drum Club would even have been a more than satisfactory headliner for the festival's opening night -- until Sing The Truth! hit the stage, however.

During two hours on stage, the teaming of Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright sounded even better than it looked on paper, delivering a rich tribute to their female singing and songwriting predecessors (Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson) and also nodding to more contemporary artists such as Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco and Tracy Chapman.

It was clear the substantial jazz fest audience, undeterred by Friday's heat, was in for something special when the three singers locked their voices together on Ike & Tina Turner's "Bold Soul Sister," a funky opening that wound its way into a bit of the spiritual "This Little Light of Mine." That led into a thoughtfully curated series of songs that let Kidjo, Reeves and Wright -- each headliners in their own right -- shine both individually and collectively, with almost each successive song bettering the one before it and leaving the crowd members spending a lot of time picking their jaws up off the ground.

If the trio stumbled at all it was on its rendition of Mitchell's "Both Sides Now;" each of the singers brought a different flavor to their own verses, but the result was a messy exception to the tight performances that filled the rest of the show. Wright, the 31-year-old "junior" member of the group -- or, as Reeves referred to her, "the future" -- scored with a buoyant "Imagination," the bluesy gospel of Jackson's "How I Got Over" and a smooth rendering of the standard "Heart & Soul," while Reeves demonstrated both range and power on "Freedom Dance," holding the microphone at her waist and still coming through as loudly as if it was right up at her lips. Reeves and Wright also combined for a powerful a capella version of Jackson's "I'm on My Way to Canaan."

Kidjo, meanwhile, spiced a moving version of Makeba's "Saduva" and "All the Seeds" with some exuberant, loose-limbed dancing, and during "Africa" she marched off the stage and deep into the crowd.

Backed by a superb band that included Pontiac native Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums -- both featured on Reeves' rendition of DiFranco's "32 Flavors" -- the trio delivered plenty of other gems, It paid tribute to Franklin with "Baby I Love You" and dipped into the Chapman catalog for the Reeves-sung "All That You Have is Your Soul" and Kidjo's stylized take on "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution." The big surprise? How about an Africanized take on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," after which Kidjo noted that "Mick Jagger deserved to be in this list. Somebody told me he had no hips so he looks like a woman. I don't think so!"

It was an inspiring and invigorating start for the festival, and while the rest of the lineup is certainly potent, it's likely we'll still be speaking -- glowingly -- about Sing The Truth!'s set at the end of the run.

The Detroit Jazz Festival continues through Monday (Sept. 5) between Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit. Visit www.detroitjazzfest.com for schedules and other details.

Web Site: www.detroitjazzfest.com

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