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Concert Reviews:
Icons Shorter, Hancock open Detroit Jazz Fest

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, September 4, 2017

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DETROIT -- “We’re looking for Dr. Frankenstein” were the first, and really only, words Wayne Shorter, this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival Artist-In-Residence, had to say to the crowd packed in front of the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage on Friday night, Sept. 1, near Campus Martius Park.

But that was an apt description for what the saxophonist and his longtime friend and fellow music icon Herbie Hancock delivered to open the 38th annual edition of North America’s largest free jazz festival.

“Free,” in their case, didn’t mean admission price, either. Both artists -- a one-two punch of bon a fide who played together in Miles Davis’ seminal band of the late 60s and early 70s -- used their sets on Friday to revamp even familiar material and to reinvent, to a degree, their own voices as both soloists and ensemble leaders. The results varied between exciting and perplexing, but both performances spoke to their no-borders dedication to advancing their craft.

Shorter’s hour-long set was the freer of the two, with he and his all-world band delivering a series of random-sounding, mostly grooveless explorations that meandered without any sense of plan or preparation. The quartet was working without a net, in other words, but the players -- including pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade and upright bassist John Patitucci (who was in town last month with Chick Corea) -- know who to do handle a formless environment. With Hancock and drumming legend Jack DeJohnette looking on throughout, Blade and Patitucci in particular wove in and out of each other like combative but complementary bucks, locking horns in the best way possible in support of solo blasts from Shorter -- seated throughout due to a recent hernia surgery -- and Perez.

Hancock and his own well-credentialed crew, meanwhile, hit a strong groove from the start of its 85-minute performance, which leaned towards the electric and electronic side of the keyboardist’s lengthy catalog and nodding particularly to his fusion band the Headhunters via two takes on “Chameleon” (the latter with Hancock brandishing a key-tar) and an epic rendition of “Actual Proof” that gave each of the musicians a solo spotlight. Hancock and saxophonist-keyboardist Terrace Martin both provided Vocoder enhanced vocals, while drummer Vinnie Colaiuta demonstrated his usual hard-hitting wizardry and bassist James Genus, now with the “Saturday Night Live” house band, provided a particularly melodic bottom for the proceedings.

Hancock -- who dressed in layers and made note of how Friday’s fall-like chill was affecting his “old fingers” -- also tossed a couple bars of “Southern Nights” into the show as a quick note to the late Glen Campbell.

In-between meanwhile, Los Angeles’ Miles Mosley + the West Coast Get Down played a funky and more accessible set on a side stage, engaging enough to surely draw fans back for the group’s headlining performance at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, on the Main Stage.

The festival continues through Sunday, Sept. 4, with four stages of music in Hart Plaza as well as the Main Stage. For schedules and other information, visit detroitjazzfest.org.

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