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12/22/13

Mack Avenue Superband
Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival
Mack Avenue Records

The challenge with any one-off all-star aggregation is to find enough commonalities to prevent the proceedings from turning into a holy mess. If good things manage to happen, even better. This document of the Mack Avenue SuperBand’s appearance at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival succeeds not only because these are professionals well suited to adjusting to new settings, but also because they knew it wasn’t the time or place to try anything too fancy. The seven tunes here—and the treatments given them—are all accessible, all likable, all relatively safe. There are random sparks of brilliance, but probably nothing anyone will still be talking about years from now. It was a night of fine jazz by a handful of labelmates—nothing more, nothing less.

You can’t go wrong with a cast that includes vibraphonist Gary Burton and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who appear together on two tracks, Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and the all-cast finale, Bill Doggett’s classic R&B instrumental “Honky Tonk.” Tia Fuller (alto saxophone) and Sean Jones (trumpet) add muscle to that closer (as does tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera) plus two other tracks, and the über-impressive newcomer Cécile McLorin Salvant nails Bessie Smith’s “Oh Daddy Blues.” Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez’s unconventional solo reading of “Guantanamera” is the show’s biggest surprise, departing familiarities and finding its own way. Hot Club of Detroit guitarist Evan Perri steps up for a spirited cakewalk through Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” then returns for the finale. He’s quite a hotshot.

Throughout the set, the rhythm section of pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen is workmanlike, versatile and sometimes more. It appears a good time was had by all, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Originally published in November 2013
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