Yes, even though Detroit is a disaster in so many ways, there is at least one reason to head to the Motor City-bassist Rodney Whitaker. He’s the musical director of both of these sessions, one’s his own studio recording and the other is a “superband” that he lead at the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival. The only heat that’s packed here is in the music!
Rodney Whitaker’s own band features the crispy team of Bruce Barth/p and Greg Hutchinson/dr as the rhythm team and the blisteringly beautiful Antonio Hart on alto and soprano sax. Tunes like the gospel-bop of “The World Falls Away” has Hart’s alto deliver one of the most infectious melody lines and solos this side of Lee Morgan on “Moanin’”. His soprano on the old hit “Mr. Magic is a cooker as well, and his long tones on the tribute to the famed Motown bassist on “Jamerson’s Lullaby” is one that will stick to your soul. Whitaker himself delivers the goods to your door on a wonderfully bowed “Autumn Leaves”, but his biggest contribution here may be his daughter, Rockelle Fortin, who is going to hit you like a stun gun on “You Go To My Head” and “Freedom Day.” Wrapping up the disc is a gospel gem “Lost In You Again” that brings you back to the origins of jazz, and that’s a great place to finish a memorable session.
Just as good is the gig at the Detroit Fest, where Whitaker fronts a team with Carl Allen/dr, Gary Burton/vib, Aaron Diehl/p, Sean Jones/tp, Evan Perri/g, Warren Wolf/vig-mar and an astonishing Kirk Whalum, who sounds positively inspired on tenor, soprano and flute.
The rhythm team is Class V Rapids exciting on material such as “Soul Sister” “Chick’s Tune” which includes a (pun intended) vibrant solo by Burton. Whalum puts aside his usually Episcopalian smooth tenor sax sounds and crosses over into Bible-thumping Pentecostal territory as he testifies and wails on a gloriously soulful “Soul Sister” and “Relativity”, keeping up with the Jones’ who delivers an uncanny buildup on the piece and taps into his inner Lee Morgan on “Speak to My Heart” and “Chick’s Tune.” . Perri and Diehl get together for a jaw dropping chopfest on “Troublant Bolero” and mallets are flying as Wolf and Burton take on the bop classic “Two Bass Hit.” As for Whitaker? Oh, he takes a concise solo here and there, but like most great leaders, he mostly sets an environment conducive to bringing out the bet in each artist. Once again, the church brings the spirit back into the music as Whalum takes the pulpit and delivers a barn burner of a sermon on ”I Want Jesus To Walk With Me.” This disc will get you on your feet and shouting “Amen,” even if you’re Bill Maher!
Mack Avenue Records