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Live Review: 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival

Bad weather didn’t dampen performances by Chick Corea, Ravi Coltrane, Julian Lage, and many others

Artist-in-residence Chick Corea at the 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival
Artist-in-residence Chick Corea at the 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival (photo: Marek Lazarski)

In Switzerland, a snowman effigy called a Böögg is burned and exploded at the stake as a way of marking winter’s end and predicting the fortitude of the upcoming summer. Native American elders have been known to speak to tornadoes in hopes of diverting them. The ancient Greeks spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to appease Zeus. In 2019, the organizers of the Detroit Jazz Festival might consider something in the way of their own good-weather superstition—say, a first pressing of Kenny Cox’s Blue Note debut and a Coney dog left as offerings at the Hart Plaza amphitheater. They could use the help.

Detroit is among the very finest American jazz festivals: an admission-free marvel, held downtown over Labor Day weekend, that is easily navigable and balances headliner-caliber artists with resources from the Motor City’s rich but more localized scene. It also has a keen understanding of how to make an annual event seem momentous, with an artist and ensemble in residence, inspired tribute concepts, and an impressively adaptable, world-class house orchestra. What the festival hasn’t had of late is much luck with the weather. Last year, Monday’s programming was truncated by a storm, eliminating among other sets Wayne Shorter’s orchestral performance of his Emanon. This year, Saturday was called early, cutting the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Nicholas Payton’s Afro-Caribbean Mixtape Project, and more. On Monday, a midday storm cell required cancellations and a reshuffling of the program, but the rain was merciful enough to allow a beautiful night for artist-in-residence Corea’s orchestral finale. Oodles of great music did go down uninterrupted, and it should be noted that the festival’s producers and staff handle inclement weather nimbly, with prescient evacuations and a Twitter account. But still—what gives?

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