The brainchild of Mack Avenue president Denny Stilwell, the SuperBand is a fiery, celebratory conglomeration, the sort of chemistry experiment whose success is predicated on its combustibility. The group brings together legends and label mainstays including vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarist Kevin Eubanks, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, trumpeter Sean Jones, and guitarist Evan Perri, with rising stars like pianist Alfredo Rodríguez and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. The band is anchored by the house rhythm section of pianist Aaron Diehl, drummer Carl Allen, and bassist Rodney Whitaker(who also serves as musical director).
Al Pryor, Mack Avenue EVP of A&R and the record's producer, acknowledges the challenge inherent in bringing such a loaded roster together on one stage, calling the impressive result "a team effort." Emphasizing the tight-knit dynamic and Detroit pride of the Mack Avenue team and the experience of the Detroit Jazz Festival's skilled crew, Pryor says that the concert's ultimate success was due to the musicians' passion. "The artists were all enthusiastic when we first approached them," he says, "and all brought something special to the table."
The repertoire for the Saturday night performance at Detroit's Hart Plaza consisted of original tunes and favorite standards contributed by the SuperBand's members. The proceedings kick off with Sean Jones' "Liberty Avenue Stroll," a tribute to another thoroughfare, this one in the trumpeter's native Pittsburgh. The new piece, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, depicts a lively and colorful jaunt, fueling robust solo turns by Fuller and the composer, as well as the members of the house rhythm section. The same line-up tears through Tia Fuller's ferocious "Breakthrough," which initially appeared on her second Mack Avenue release, Healing Space.
The Miles Davis classic "All Blues" offers a spotlight for Gary Burton, who premiered his New Quartet on Common Ground in 2011, and Kevin Eubanks, who made his Mack Avenue debut in 2010 with Zen Food, his first release following his departure from his longtime gig at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Quincy Jones has called Alfredo Rodríguez, whose debut album, Sounds of Space, was released last year, "one of the most prolific and gifted pianists of the 21st century." The inventive Cuban-born pianist's radical solo reworking of "Guantanamera," a stunningly original transformation of the familiar chestnut, is strong evidence of exactly what Jones was talking about.
The band co-led by longtime musical partners Carl Allen and Rodney Whitaker made their Mack Avenue debut with 2007's Get Ready, while Aaron Diehl's first label release came just this year, with the critically acclaimed The Bespoke Man's Narrative. But the threesome work cohesively together throughout this record as if they'd been gigging for years. They support Hot Club of Detroit guitarist Evan Perri's expansive, soulful rendition of the Django Reinhardt masterpiece "Nuages" as skillfully as they do singer Cécile McLorin Salvant on the woman-scorned belter "Oh Daddy Blues," originally recorded by Bessie Smith over a century ago. Salvant's recently released Mack Avenue debut,WomanChild, has revealed her as the heir apparent to Smith and other legendary vocalists, a verdict amply seconded by her performance here.
Most of the instrumentalists, along with tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, reconvene at show's end for the Wild Bill Doggett rave-up "Honky Tonk," featuring blistering blues fretwork by Perri and gutbucket testifying from the soloists. The tune is a tribute to theSuperBand's label mate, Detroit's 'Gentleman of the Blues' Johnnie Bassett, who passed away while the group was in rehearsals. Far from mournful, Bassett's boisterous spirit pervades the rousing homage.
The diversity of the material reflects the equally wide-ranging Mack Avenue roster, but this cohesive and captivating live recording is representative of the label's ambitions, the vitality of its artists, and the electricity of one September evening in Detroit.