Gross Pointe Unitarian Church
Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan
There have been some memorable concerts at the Jazz Forum concert series over the years, but Wednesday night’s set from bassist Don Mayberry and friends wasn’t one of them.
It was billed as a special night, because it was the series’ 125th performance as well as the official CD release party for Mayberry’s new record Kaleidoscope. The room was sold out, and to accommodate everyone who showed up, two extra sets had to be added.
However, something was off. Mayberry seemed uncomfortable with the praise lavished on him by jazz historian and gig MC Jim Gallert. (Even if it was deserved — Mayberry has earned his reputation as one of the best bass players in jazz.) Then the performance started with an awful duet by vocalists Shahida Nurullah and Kate Patterson, who performed an obscure George Gershwin ditty. Unfortunately Patterson seemed like she was trying prove she’s a better singer than Nurullah. Worse, when she had the second number to herself, Patterson didn’t capitalize. Mayberry, the quintessential accompanist who normally elicits the best from vocalists, couldn’t save her.
He just wasn’t himself, and lacked his trademark pizzazz. I’ve seen Mayberry so engrossed in the music that sweat poured off his forehead and he appeared to be in a trance, communicating telepathically with his band mates. But on Wednesday night, the bassist just couldn’t get it together. He couldn’t remember the name of the tunes, or the order in which they were to be played. So he compensated for being unorganized by ribbing the other musicians.
The concert wasn’t a total mess. Trumpeter Dwight Adams’ solo on the ballad “Stella by Starlight” was breathtaking, reminding me of how beautifully Miles Davis used to play ballads. Mayberry for a moment even showed signs of his old (or usual) self, pulling the bass strings meticulously like he was picking lint off his favorite Sunday suit.
The band went into jam session mode on “Squeeze Me.” Bert Myrick was banging and swearing on the drums, and Vincent York’s alto sax zoomed effortlessly through the chord changes. But there weren’t enough moments like this, and in general the concert flopped. It was the typical let’s-figure-things-out-as-we-go mind-set that too many Detroit musicians and bands can’t seem to shake.
The night of your much-anticipated album release party is not the time to be off your game.
Charles L. Latimer
TS Monk (with Rachael Price)
TS Monk has admitted that nowadays he prefers to play compositions by musicians who are still alive. It's good to know the drummer has finally stopped milking his old man’s legacy. He only performed two of his father Thelonious Monk’s compositions Thursday night, “Think of One” and the opus “’Round Midnight.” The rest of the set was a little rushed but enjoyably lukewarm, one highlight being Monk’s drum solo, for which his bandmates cleared the stage. Given the opportunity, most jazz drummers like to let it all hang out. Not TS. His solo was terse and, though improvised, still studied. So, not an earth-shattering night by any stretch, but worth the price of admission.
A note on opener Rachael Price:
Although she has a lovely voice, Price’s debt to late jazz vocalist Anita O’Day was obvious during her 45-minute opening set. She also couldn’t quite find a comfortable groove, and never fully won over the Orchestra Hall crowd. But she’s new on the scene, and has only been touring nationally for two years, so let’s give her a break. Price is obviously talented — the 21-year-old is the youngest musician ever to have won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Competition, a jazz program that’s helped launch the careers of musicians such as saxophonist Joshua Redman and singer Jan Monheit. That Price was asked to share the bill at all with TS Monk is in itself an indication of her potential. And yet, she couldn’t connect with the crowd. Price went the conventional route, performing only one original song (“Close Your Eye”) and filling the rest of her set with timeless standards such as “From This Moment On,” ”Just Squeeze Me” and Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly.” She handled the material competently, and even the most celebrated jazz singers would be envious of her scatting, which she did effortlessly. But Price was ultimately too stiff, and fell shy of the scathing set that was promised. Plenty of potential for next time, however.—CLL