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Concert Reviews:
George Benson, Ron Carter deliver strong opening night for Detroit Jazz Fest
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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DETROIT -- George Benson had a gleam in his eye as he told the 37th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival crowd on Friday night, Sept. 2, that, "They say we've run out of time."

Then, turning up a volume knob on his guitar he added, "I say..." and began the familiar two-note opening to his hit version of the Drifters' "On Broadway."

It was a cheerfully defiant end to both a crowd-pleasing set on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage near Campus Martius Park and to a festival opening night that encompassed a varied array of jazz, from Benson's smooth pop-soul stylings to the Soul Rebels' brief New Orleans party performance and Artist In Residence Ron Carter's adventurous Nonet. Together they set a tone and established parameters for what will be taking place across the festival's four stages through Monday, Sept. 5 -- and worked just fine on its own as a single night of music.

Benson certainly has plenty of cred from his more than six decades of performing -- on his own and as a sideman -- but he did not at all tailor his 75-minute show to the any of the genre's perceived strictures. Instead he played it confidently down the middle, touching on his greatest hits -- from the opening "Breezin," celebrating its 40th anniversary -- to the "On Broadway Finale," and for four songs in the middle of the set he put his guitar down entirely to play crooner for "Kisses In The Moonlight," "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love," "Turn Your Love Around" and Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love."

But Benson -- dressed in black with a monogrammed guitar strap and backed by a six-piece band -- dished out plenty of tasty guitar licks, too, particularly on a muscular rendition of onetime protege Earl Klugh's "Collaboration" and on fiery versions of "The Ghetto" and "Give Me The Night," while a gentle, mostly instrumental treatment of Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" offered a melodic richness amidst the uptempo fare.

Ferndale-born bassist Carter and his Nonet, which featured four cellos as well as a second bassist, had plenty of melodic ambition during its six songs, hopping from near-classical refinement to Latin ambience and even a bit of bebop. It was a statement kind of performance from the Artist in Residence, a Cass Technical High School alumnus who let the festival crowd know that he was setting a high bar for the entire endeavor as well as for his own daily performances, and the result was sumptuous versions of Leon Russell's "Song For You" and Miles Davis' "All Blues" (which Carter recorded in 1973), as well as an epic rendering of Carter's own "Eight Plus."

Playing on a satellite stage nearby, the Soul Rebels bridged the style and vibe gap between Benson and Carter with a brassy, high-energy 20 minutes that included instrumental versions of hits by Hall & Oates, the Jacksons and Michael Jackson solo. The group then headed up Woodward Avenue to open for Lauryn Hill at the Fillmore Detroit, but the teaser will certainly bring folks back when the Soul Rebels play their own set at 6 p.m Saturday, Sept. 3, back on the Main Stage.

The Detroit Jazz Festival runs through Monday, Sept. 5. Admission is free. For schedules and other information, visit detroitjazzfest.com.



Web Site: www.detroitjazzfest.com

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