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Mack Avenue Superband: Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival–2014

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On the Mack Avenue Superband’s third consecutive live recording from the Detroit Jazz Festival, there are no big surprises. But there are a couple of little ones. You know what you’re going to get when you give the 2014 edition a spin: all-star performances from seven musicians affiliated with the Motor City-based label, each strong enough to be a leader. As before, bassist and music director Rodney Whitaker is the facilitator, and each of the other players-guitarist Evan Perri, pianist Aaron Diehl, alto and soprano saxo-phonist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and drummer Carl Allen-appeared on either the 2012 or ’13 release, if not both.

What emerges more than anything during the hour-long set is a sense of camaraderie and single-mindedness-and, of course, professionalism. With all but one of its six pieces composed by a Superband member, there’s never an inkling that this isn’t a regular touring ensemble. No single player dominates, yet each has his or her moments. For Perri, founder of the Hot Club of Detroit, Wolf and Diehl, the first of those high points arrives during Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” the only non-original, which opens the show. It’s played briskly, Allen and Whitaker pushing the tempo, and you might not even notice till they start blowing during the next tune, Wolf’s “The Struggle,” that you hadn’t yet heard the sax players. Once they get going, it’s a seven-headed beast.

At any point anyone might grab the reins, but the remainder of the band is never less than fully engaged. It’s not until they’re nearing the end, with the rocking “Introduction to Bipolar Blues Blues,” that the semi-makeshift septet raises eyebrows: Composer Whalum enters into a remarkably fierce protracted sax battle with Fuller, suggestive of late-’40s jump. It’s not that you didn’t think they could, but that you never expected they would.

Originally Published