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Thursday, December 26,2013

2013 Jazz/classical highlights

by Lawrence Cosentino
The Lansing jazz and classical music scene created a lot of memorable moments in 2013. I chose these six favorites strictly from the gut. Science and reason fail when music this powerful takes over.

Swing, sentiment and a bucket of greasy organ grooves warmed up a loose and lovely tribute to veteran drummer and MSU Jazz Professor Randy Gelispie Feb. 10 at the Avenue Café. Gelispie is the revered elder of the MSU Jazz Studies program and a living link to the heyday of jazz. Students, colleagues and collaborators from earlier days jammed in a daisy chain of jazz through a memorable afternoon and evening. The highlight was seeing Detroit organist Bill Heid and guitarist Perry Hughes reunite with an ever-energized Gelispie to bubble the pot like it was 1958.

The performers outnumbered the audience when an April 15 calypso spectacular flooded MSU’s newly refurbished Community Music School with a coral reef of swaying steel pan drummers and other colorful creatures. MSU’s Trinidad-born trumpeter Etienne Charles led the extravaganza, melding MSU’s Jazz Orchestra I with California steel pan virtuoso Andy Narell, the Oakland University Steel Band and the Moot Steelheads Steel Orchestra. Narell’s hypnotic steel pan solo and a huge, rippling tribute to calypso legend Lord Kitchener were unforgettable.

Lansing is a hotbed of straight-up jazz, with two major festivals (the East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz festival and Lansing JazzFest) and so many small combo gigs it’s impossible to get to all of them. If I had to pick the one that hit the nail hardest, I’d pick Friday, Aug. 2, when guest trumpeter Terrell Stafford joined the Rodney Whitaker Quartet for a blazing set at Lansing JazzFest.

There were some big surprises in classical music this year, among them the benign Baltic onslaught of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, with former Detroit Symphony maestro Neeme Järvi at the podium at Wharton Center Nov. 8. Young Armenian guest cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan poured a lot of soul into the Dvorak Cello Concerto and finished with a long, jaw-dropping encore that blended folk music lamentation with post-classical, post-rock freakouts of astonishing force.

The season of the cellist reached its zenith at Wharton Nov. 18 as classical music’s most famous superstar, Yo-Yo Ma, gave a definitive demonstration why he’s all that. Ma’s duo recital with pianist Kathryn Stott was a probing, serious exploration of musical possibilities, reaching a near-silent epiphany with Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

A new element was inscribed on the periodic table of music in greater Lansing Dec. 5, when student percussionist Zac Brunell of the MSU College of Music led a fearsome percussion ensemble in a mindexpanding, chest-bursting performance of music by Greek avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis at the Broad Art Museum. The music blasted through Zaha Hadid’s fancy new museum, sounding as raw as mating bull elephants, yet precise and refined as a physics equation. For openers, Ann Arbor’s Donald Sinta Saxophone Quartet sent burning vines of sound straight up the museum’s glassy, diagonal walls. The percussion ensemble churned like mad in the second floor atrium, with the visionary drawings of conceptual architect Lebbeus Woods around them. The Broad Museum is still finding its way as a venue for music, but after “X is for Xenakis,” it will be very hard for any venue this side of Alpha Centauri to find a better way to wire eyes and ears together.

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