Jam-Packed Sunday Challenges a Jazz Critic's Stamina


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If any more evidence was needed that the Detroit International Jazz Festival has elevated its product in the last two years, the gloriously stuffed schedule of overlapping talent on Sunday was it. The laws of metaphysics made it impossible to hear it all, and no sane person would even try to ingest as much as I did. Of course, jazz critics have never been known for their mental stability.

Here's a diary of thoughts about the performances I heard at Hart Plaza starting in the mid afternoon, after filing my previous dispatch about the music I heard earlier on Sunday.

I walked in on fleet-fingered guitarist Pat Martino in mid-flight at the Waterfront Stage around 4 p.m. as he was soaring through Sonny Rollins' “Oleo," a bebop staple that Martino had souped-up with hip chord substitutions. Paced by a dynamic rhythm section at the waterfront stage, Martino's impeccable articulation and speed as he smoked through the harmony was inhuman. Martino's approach is scientific in its mathematical precision and perfection, and it grows wearisome after a while. But it's jaw-dropping for a tune or two.

Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane's tribute to his late mother, Alice Coltrane -- born Alice McLeod in Detroit -- was one of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the festival. It did not disappoint. The weighty air of ritual that descended upon the Main Amphitheater reflected the spirit of a woman whose life traced a remarkable journey, from bebop pianist to pillar of the avant-garde and Eastern religious mystic. The music pulsated with turbulent dissonance and peaceful stasis, searching modality, rhythmic expressionism and, of course, echoes of John Coltrane, the revolutionary saxophonist whom she married in the '60s.

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