Review of
Marcus Elliott Trio at DSO

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra inaugurated a new series this summer in the Sosnick Courtyard on Parsons St.. The music was outdoors and could be enjoyed if you brought a chair or blanket to sit on the grass in the courtyard, just east of the parking structure. A stage was set up for the concert, everyone was social distancing, wearing masks, and we had our temperature checked as we entered, having presented tickets we had purchased online, so that the organizers could control the number of attendees.

We were in a celebratory mood as this was our first live concert since the pandemic started. It is therefore possible that our expectations were too high. We were not disappointed and our spirits were lifted by the swing, soul, and polish of tenor saxophonist Marcus Elliott’s Trio.

Elliott has been a busy guy in area clubs, so we are quite familiar with his version of modern jazz. He has always impressed with impeccable technique and expressive sound with a musical identity all his own. This evening he stuck to a repertoire that went from bop standards like “Night in Tunisia” and Monk’s “Evidence” to post-bop Coltrane (“Equinox”). Indeed, the evening began with a loping, relaxed singular take on the latter, a haunting minor blues, repeating the head several times, varying rhythmic phrasing as if taking a look at it from different angles. The relaxed groove allowed the trio to lock in and get their bearings, meshing together as one. It seemed that they were taking a cue from the kind of thematic approach to improvisation pioneered by Sonny Rollins, learning from the inspiration without falling back on anachronistic emulation.

The trio worked very well together with bassist Noah Jackson playing a prominent role. On “Tunisia” he took the first solo, not the sax as on the classic recordings by Parker and Gillespie. The bass also was up front on “There Will Never Be Another You,” in duet with the leader’s tenor. Jackson’s full-toned bass was impressive as usual and we hope he will stick around his hometown for a while. Drummer Louis Jones III, formerly one of Elliot’s students, was an ideal team player in the trio, with crisp and swift swing throughout the evening. The hour-long set ended as it began, with the blues that inspired the audience to clap on the back beat, expressing their appreciation for a fine-tuned concert of perfectly made music that for a short time made us forget the reality around us.

It is important to recognize the efforts of Chris Harrington of the DSO, who put this together in these challenging times, to the staff that made it all work without a hitch, and to the experts who made it all sound so good. We hope the weather will cooperate so we can enjoy more jazz during Michigan’s Indian Summer at the Sosnick.