The Blue LLama
Full-time jazz on Main Street
From the May, 2019 issue
The Blue LLama jazz club and restaurant finally opened on Main St. last month with a full program of music. The modernist interior feels comfortable and appropriate for listening and dining, but the sleek design masks practical ends: the high-tech walls and ceiling create an intimate soundscape that blocks vibrations from intruding on the Ark's performance space directly above it. The result is a fabulous uniform sound--no matter where one sits, the music coming from the stage sounds the same, reinforced by a stellar system of microphones and speakers.
The soft opening of the club featured the carefully crafted compositions and sound textures of a Norwegian group led by trumpeter Mathias Eick--highly atmospheric music that was also rhythmically adroit. Some of the best Michigan groups followed on subsequent evenings, culminating with the official opening featuring the extroverted, highly entertaining act of Hammond B-3 organist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco.
Among the shows I attended in the lead-up to the opening night, two stood out. First, Marion Hayden led her multigenerational Detroit quintet that includes trombonist Vincent Chandler alongside her cousin, the well-known pianist and soprano saxophonist, teacher, and record producer Kamau Kenyatta. The material, tight interplay, and spirit were electrifying. One table of bright young things was talking; Hayden called a ballad, and Chandler, playing with a mute, crafted a lovely solo, full of melodic and rhythmic surprises, and ended up playing completely alone. One by one, the talkers discovered the power of quiet art.
The second unforgettable night featured vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris. As I walked in, Harris was working through "Moody's Mood for Love," a classic jazz song with a long history. Harris began by singing it straight, but slowly the performance morphed as he made it his own, riffing extensively on saxophonist James Moody's well-known stylings and Eddie Jefferson's lyrics. Harris will be back at the Blue LLama in the fall and is not to be missed.
The schedule expands this month to include world music, represented by Blue LLama artistic director Dave Sharp's Worlds Quartet and by Debashish Bhattacharya, who plays Hindustani music on the Hawaiian lap steel guitar. The lineup also features trumpeter Nicholas Payton, drummer-composers Mike Reed and Ralph Peterson, Detroit's master drummer Gayelynn McKinney, as well as numerous local favorites, including Rick Roe, Rob Crozier, Pete Siers, and Bob Sweet.
[Originally published in May, 2019.]
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