DETROIT -- Sometimes the drummer just steals the show -- which in the case of a force of nature such as Jack DeJohnette, is not surprising.
The well-credentialed DeJohnette (Miles Davis, Bill Evans) was hardly the only big name participating in Sunday's (Aug. 31) all-star Tribute to Alice at the Detroit International Jazz Festival, an 80-minute homage to the late Detroit-born artist, songwriter and wife of saxophone legend John Coltrane. Their son Ravi put together the tribute, and the likes of bassist Charlie Haden and Detroit keyboardist Geri Allen, along with newcomers Brandee Younger on harp and Ed Feldman on percussion, certainly meant there was plenty of musical firepower on stage.
But all wound up bowing before DeJohnette on Sunday, which is not exactly a bad thing. Looking trim and ready to go 15 rounds with anybody who might cross him, DeJohnette found a way to highlight every one of the expansive song arrangements with explosions of snare, tom-tom and cymbal accents that both complemented the other players and created space all their own, reaching a zenith at the intense conclusion of "Journey in Satchidamanda" as the late afternoon sun shined directly on him.
DeJohnette's workouts did not come at the expense of the rest of the music, however. Ravi Coltrane and Allen both shined in their solos spots, while Haden -- who, along with DeJohnette, played on Alice Coltrane's final album, 2004's "Translinear Light" -- was a steady presence, a Johnny Cash of jazz in his black attire and shades. The repertoire, meanwhile, offered a good overview of Alice Coltrane's work, starting with the title track from "Translinear Light" and "Jadishwar" from that album before reaching back to 1968's "Blue Nile" and 1976's "For Turiya," a Haden-composed duet for harp and bass that gave the under-utilized Younger a chance to stretch out. Feldman, meanwhile, took his spotlight during "Journey in Satchidamanda," during a fiery percussion dialog with DeJohnette.
In all it was a humble and focused tribute to a home grown talent that deserved its encore -- if only to let the crowd at the Carhartt Amphitheatre in Hart Plaza just wanted to hear the drummer strut his stuff a little more.
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