At the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival, a select group of Mack Avenue recording artists converged onstage for a live performance that went so well, an album soon followed. Bassist Rodney Whitaker, trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Aaron Diehl, drummer Carl Allen, guitarist Evan Perri, and vibraphonist Gary Burton have returned for the 2013 Detroit Jazz Fest live album. With them, vibraphonist-marimbist Warren Wolf and veteran jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum.
Mack Avenue SuperBand’s Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2013 — dropping September 2, 2014 — features the all-star band as a cohesive unit, as if the musicians have been gigging for decades together. That was musical director Whitaker’s intention. He said that the previous year’s performance/recording was mostly about individual stars taking turns onstage. This year, he sought the musicians’ feedback for the program and made sure everyone involved had plenty of time to go over the set list, which was firmed up two months prior to the actual Detroit Jazz Fest concert.
“With artists at this level, you don’t need to dictate every moment. Sometimes it’s more important to listen and facilitate, and not always try to be the boss,” Whitaker explained. “When you have a conversation with everyone about what music we’re playing and the direction we want to go, everybody buys in, and they make it sound like a band. We put together a set list two months before the concert took place.”
He noticed that this band really came together in the rehearsals. Nobody ranked higher than anyone else. They played well as a unit and really enjoyed every moment. “Everyone felt empowered. There was no hierarchy, no one playing the star,” Whitaker elaborated. “In 2012, the idea was more to have a showcase for everyone’s skill, and have people come on and off the bandstand. This year, Al and Denny wanted it to sound like a band, and that’s how all the musicians felt, too.”
The equality of play, respect and sheer enjoyment comes through loud and clear in this live album.
Let’s jump straight into Carl Allen’s “Relativity,” a beast for the horns in a soulful big band setting — and where Whalum tears it up. With some staunch support from the ever-fruitful pianist Aaron Diehl, the saxophonist transfixes the crowd by punching up the set in a gut-wrenching, swirling, boxing fondue. Wolf matches Whalum’s fire, tripping lightly over the bars, staggering up those steps toward some promised land. But the win goes to Whitney Houston’s saxophonist in the most enticing reach, bosomy and pure. Wait for the 8:51 mark as he slices his horn into the fade. It is, indeed, an egalitarian blend of Whalum’s sax, Wolf’s vibes, and Whitaker’s flow-over bass.
Wolf’s discourse in the mid-tempo modality of “Soul Sister” shoots out melody and harmonic counterparts in a slew of glittery pops and tonal sheen. The vibest/marimbist is able to speed through fantastic elaborations of melody, while contemplating the funkiest of riffs. Whalum stretches Wolf’s melody to an excruciating kilter. Before Jones pulls out ungodly notes in a never-ending movement on his trumpet. Perri lays double, triple time over his strings, bubbling over before Diehl seamlessly saunters through on his cresting wave, barely countering the pleasing melodic force with a bit of chord tension then throwing in an Afro-Cuban riff amidst the brush with jazz-classical thunder. Damn! The solo exchanges are some of the coolest imaginable, taking turns within the fabric of the entire piece, never straying far, but picking up on rhythmic magic through each musician’s funkiest personality complex. What a grand opening.
The Mack Avenue recording artists do quite a number on Donny McClurkin’s R&B song, “Speak To My Heart,” teasing a universally loved, embraceable melody with surges of individual foreclosure. Whalum is insane, rising above the funky lines, spitting big band and bluesy fire. Wolf seems to take on the shading of a sax player in his solo number, forcing his bars to go smoothly into that good night, providing shade and color, background and leads simultaneously. Whitaker and Perri double up on bass-guitar in the most natural way, leading each other’s counter-points for a blues-rockabilly effect. Drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker brought this tune back from their second Mack Avenue record, Work To Do.
It doesn’t matter what the Mack Avenue SuperBand does, Chick Corea’s opus, “Chick’s Tune,” a medley of “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and “Nostalgia,” Corea’s “Señor Mouse,” or the straight-ahead jazz-gospel resurrection of “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me” (from Whalum’s 2001 album, Hymns In The Garden). The musicians in this band do it together, with soulful flair.
Can’t wait for next year’s.
Artist quotes pulled from a press release, provided by DL Media.