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Detroit International Jazz Festival

Randy Brecker

Christian McBride admits to growing up in what was “definitely a Motown household,” so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to be named the artist in residence at the free, outdoor, 29th-annual Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend. Especially since the festival theme was “A Love Supreme: The Philly-Detroit Summit,” and the bassist hails from Philadelphia. As artist in residence, McBride made more than a half-dozen appearances at the festival, including three leading his own bands or those groups he’d helped assemble. They ranged from an all-star big band doing a tribute to Marvin Gaye to a Philly-Detroit Summit sextet concentrating on the two cities’ mid-20th-century jazz heritage. The varied settings gave McBride a chance to display his eclectic interests and versatility on both acoustic and electric basses.

The Philly/Detroit Tribute to Marvin Gaye on opening night (Friday, Aug. 29) benefited from a strong, crowd-pleasing set by singer Dianne Reeves as a warm-up. McBride not only led the band from center stage while also playing electric bass guitar, he also wrote the arrangements, which covered the range of Gaye’s career from “Hitch Hike” to “What’s Going On.” If anything, the arrangements were too beholden to the Motown sound McBride admits to growing up on, not doing much to re-imagine Gaye’s music, adding little more to the original Motown arrangements than some jazzy punching up and fleshing out. But the muscular big band did make for great, bigger-is-better nostalgia lapped up by the appreciative audience. Three vocalists, aided by four back-up singers, shared lead-vocal duties: newcomer Jose Jones was a bit shaky, Rahsaan Patterson came close to the Gaye falsetto, and Lalah Hathaway (the late Donny’s daughter) sang with rousing confidence.

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