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'74 Ann Arbor Blues

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The John Nicholas Band opened the show Friday night and thus kicked off the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival 1974, In Exile. The band included both veteran blues stars - guitarist Hubert Sumlin and drummer S.P. Leary - and strong, young in-the - traditioners John Nicholas and Larry Man-derville. The unit as a whole started off hot and simply continued to burn, turning on the mostly fresh-faced crowd to the grizzled yet affirmative music known as the blues. While the crowd was still warm, out ran The Persuasions. To teil the truth, I'd never caught the group live before and was surprised, and then very excited, to hear and see just how much energy this a-cappella unit produced with the unadomed use of their hands, feet and pure voices. Their complete, good time music had the crowd singing and clapping along, and for the encoré, lead singer Jerry Lawson beckoned to the backstage crowd to join the group, a gesture that effectively demonstrated the popular nature of this idiom and which gracefully bridged that passive performeraudience gap, transporting all involved to the same swinging street corner. Sun Ra and his Arkestra is something you've got to dig live to dig at all. Tve written before that Sun Ra's records, as great as they are. represent no more than half of the power .of his loving assaults. It was inspirational just to watch the giant Arkestra set up. There were jazz greats John Gilmore and Marshall Allen who've been playing with Sun Ra for twenty years now, young kids playing various far-out percussion instruments, a host of dancers, and fïnally the resplendent patriarch himself. The Arkestra played, chanted, sang, and danced for a solid hour and took the ing crowd on a relatively brief tour of some of the nearer planets and stars. Af ter the organic, improvisa al flow of the Sun Ra experience came the stunning, precisely-choreographed mindfuck of the James Brown Revue. Talk about raw power! You've never heard such exact, slick, loud, funky, good time music in your life. Never. The Revue almost instantly magnetized the crowd and brought it to its feet. The self-proclaimed, duly certified, Godfather of Soul had done it to death again, right before our disbelieving eyes and ears. We left Night One of the Festival spent and glowing. SATURDAY AFTERNOON Saturday afternoon's show was given over to Detroit's non-profit, self-determined, Strata Corporation for the showcasing of the considerable local talent that resides on their artist roster. The show began as the sun was high with Mixed Bag. This strong, seasoned quintet came out and blistered through a series of standards and origináis. The soprano sax work of Larry Nozero was a particularly mellow crowd-pleaser and drummer Danny Spencer made his first appearance of the afternoon. Next up was that most pleasureable rarity in these days of shrinking pocketbooks and disappearing bállrooms - Eddie Nuccillfs Big Band. The flugelhornist led the 20-piece aggregation through his demanding, intelligent arrangements in a seamless manner and left plenty of room for his soloists. Wendell Harrison, tenor; Buzz Jones, soprano; and Marcus Belgrave, trumpet, all made exceptional solo contributions in a band where everyone was blowing high and hot. The Lyman Woodard Organization is simply. one of the happiest, tightest, most imaginative small groups I've ever heard. They've been honing their material six nights a week' at J.J.'s Lounge in the Shelby Hotel for months now and their funky jazz music is eloquent testimony to the efficacy of all that work. This band was simply murderous, and if Lyman wasn't thrijling you with some shafd of post-Larry Young funk, then Ron English was dazzling you with his audacious virtuosity. Aítoist Norma Bell was an immediate torchtongued sensation and watching Leonard King was like watching grinning, multi-armed Mother Kali behind the battery. The last vehicle of trumpetercomposer Charles Moore's talent is Shattering Effect, a jazz-rock' invention, which includes three, count 'em, drummers plus a conga player. The group's music built in intensity in waves, all rather free-form save for Herman Curry's bass anchor. The hour-long, non-stop set managed to float the already swimming crowd to even higher ground. Pianist Kenn Cox and his Guerilla Jam Band were the last Strata group of the afternoon. The set was marked by precisión ensemble work on the lovely Cox compositions and by inspired solos, music is seathe Latin music like i Corea's a Much of Cox's x soned with spice oí Chick "Lieht as Feather" and it was this hot and happy sauce which the crowd ate up whole. SATURDAY NICHT The Saturday night show began with the sweet sounds of Úrsula Walker, a long time Detroit milder blues artist who plays cocktail lounges and such throughout the Motor City. Ursula's set left the high-energy enthusiasts looking for more, but well-satiated some of the older set of the audience. Next up was the Jimmy Dawkin's Blues Band bringing the street scmnds of Chicago to Windsor. Jimmy plays a searing guitar, along with a band of young kids from the Windy City, including a bass player with among the most hardplucking styles this reviewer has ever heard. Dawkins never smiles, but that's out of a heavy sense of oppression and not mean-ness or hostility. As he told the audience, "you're the only thing we are interested in." After Jimmy came the Luther Allison band, whose growing national reputation owes much to the two previous Blues and Jazz Festivals, and the earlier Ann Arbor Blues only Festivals as well. Luther knocked everybody over with teeth-gritted, hard working guitar licks and vocals. Luther gave his all at this one - which is a heil of a lot - dispelling for the length of his set some of the stranger vibes circulating throughout Griffin Hollow that night. During Luther's set, Jimmy Dawkins stalked back on the stage. The combo proved a formidable contrast, as Luther was originally Jimmy Dawkin's bass player way back when. But the crowning performance of Saturday night, and beyond a doubt the most jaw-dropping event of the entire Festival, was the rare appearance of the Cecil Taylor Unit. Cecil plays piano like no one else you've ever seen or heard - running lines and ellipses up and down the keyboard at a rate of virtuosity that blurs his hands before your eyes. Taylor's unit has completely abandoned the usual western harmonie structure, playing waves of feeling instead. It puzzled some of the audience at first, but everyone soon became frozen in rapt attention while watching Cecil pour out sonority and sweat with unbelievable energy. At the end of the long set, the crowd stood and cheered this man whose music is considered untouchable and beyond the fringe by the recording industry. SUNDAY AFTERNOON To start off fresh on Sunday, Ann Arbor's own one-of-a-kind Jake the Shake stalked the stage, strumming guitar and singing his extra-musical insights. You see, Jake can't play, but he sure puts on a good act. Next up came the legendary OneString Sam, media hit of last year's Festival, who plays a moaning, wailing and totally authentic blues on one long string. This year One-String has added an apprentice to his act, so Festival fans were treated to two men, one black and one white, jamming together on one string each. The Little Junior Cannady band took the spoti light next, a tight-knit ag[ gregation from Detroit which generally plays small private get-togethers and I clubs, but who's f ity has been growing rapidly. Before gaining recognition, Little Junior worked on the assembly line - in Detroit to stay continued on page 1 7 .