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Concert Reviews:
Don Was revue jazzes up Concert of Colors

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2012

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DETROIT -- Don Was certainly figured out a way to jazz things up for his annual All-Star Revue at this year's Concert of Colors.

After four years of spotlighting Detroit rock and R&B acts, Was (ne Fagenson), decided to focus Saturday night's July 14, show at Orchestra Hall on jazz, and to good effect. Combining powerful headliners and top-shelf support players -- and a little bit of showmanship -- Was and company put on a nearly two-and-a-half-hour exposition that made a case for the potency of the city's often-overlooked jazz scene. It was like a one-night Detroit Jazz Festival, a showcase of original approaches and inventive ideas, with each of the performers visibly (and audibly) inspired to rise to the level of their company.

Amidst all that, however, the night's VIP was pianist Mike Jellick, one of Detroit's young lions who -- as part of guest curator Marion Hayden's house band -- played in six of the night's segments and played particularly impactful solos during 83-year-old Sheila Jordan's "Sheila's Blues" and saxophonist James Carter's two numbers, a fierce rendition of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Many Blessings" and the mellower "Street of Dreams."

But there were plenty of other highlights to be heard throughout the Revue; in fact, there was barely a bad note played all night, though guitarist A. Spencer Barefield's "Ghose Dancers," delayed by a long bout of pre-song tuning, felt a bit fragile compared to the rest of the show's offerings. The dapper Carter, meanwhile, was flashy and engaging, mugging for his family in a box on Orchestra Hall's mezzanine, while venerable trumpeter Marcus Belgrave brought a Yoda-like presence to Joan Belgrave's rendition of Dinah Washington's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and a premier of Lawrence Williams' "Lottie's Mood," whose inspiration -- a veteran exotic dancer -- was in attendance on Saturday.

Violinist Regina Carter -- who took a 6 a.m. flight from New York on Saturday after appearing with Joe Jackson the night before on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" -- won the night's first consensus standing ovation with a stellar "I'll Be Seeing You," backed by former Straight Ahead cohort Hayden and her group. Former Motown Funk Brother Dennis Coffey showed off his jazz chops with a nimble romp through "Black Belt Jones," and saxophonist Wendell Harrison and keyboardist Amp Fiddler staged a funk meeting of new and old schools on the latter's "If I Don't" and Harrison's "Love Juice," which culminated with a hot conga solo by Dan Schmatz.

The entire proceedings were filmed for Was' channel on www.mydamnchannel.com and recorded for a "Detroit Jazz City" album that Blue Note Records, where Was is president, will release this fall as a benefit for Focus: Hope. Both will nicely preserve a truly special, hard-to-repeat night; Was has said he'll return "to the usual format" for next year's Revue, but here's hoping he keeps the jazz route on tap for the future.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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