Rafael Statin Quintet impressed Detroit jazz cats at Cliff Bells

The Rafael Statin Quintet at Cliff Bells
The Rafael Statin Quintet at Cliff Bells

This is a weekly feature on the Detroit music scene. 

Detroit-born Rafael Statin, formerly of the Detroit Symphony Jazz Orchestra, and seven-time Grammy-winner Robert Hurst brought their five-piece New York City band to the historic Park Avenue jazz club Cliff Bells this weekend.

Statin swooned and perspired as his post-Coltrane calypso saxophone impressed Detroit jazz cats on Friday night. Statin alternated between soprano and tenor saxophone throughout the night depending on the type of song his quintet was playing.

Statin and his band showed a diverse range of jazz knowledge, as they would go from playing fast-paced time signatures to slow and expressive ballads with professional ease. They put their talents on display by showing the variety of jazz styles they’ve gathered over the years.

Statin casually walked on and off the stage to let his bandmates solo in an attempt to give the jazz some breathing room. This is actually quite common for jazz leads.

In jazz bands, it’s important for each instrumentalist to know its place, and not get in the way of the others when it is their turn to shine. This is an unselfish way to let each soloist show their talents without hogging the spotlight. Statin’s quintet did just this.

The Rafael Statin Quintet reeled their solos off as if the scales were tattooed on their fingers. Statin struck the high notes of his woodwind with a workman-like expertise. He showed many different styles throughout the night. Classic Detroit jazz was evident in his sax, while the more sophisticated and modern inspirations of the New York City jazz scene dignified his range.

Statins professional and proficient sound came across as he put his own stamp on a cover of John Coltrane’s “Naima.” For part of the song, drummer Alex White dropped his drumsticks and decided to play with his hands to give the Coltrane classic a mark of soothing subtleness. Later in the song, White picked up a tambourine to cover “Naima” in a way that has probably never been done before.

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Robert Hurst was a dazzling spectacle on standup bass. In the music world, Hurst is quite possibly one of the most accomplished and talented bassists out there. He’s played with a wide range of musical artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis and Barbara Streisand. He is also a jazz bass teacher at University of Michigan.

His strong and impressive resume was evident in his fingers as he laid the foundation for his band and plucked away extraordinary bass solos with remarkable efficiency. It’s astonishing to see Hurst perform in the prime of a career that is sure to garner more awards and achievements.

The soloing of each bandmate were different from one another, bringing together many unique styles that blended into one awe-inspiring product. It was like a potluck where each attendee brought their own spice to add to the mix.

Cliff Bells is arguably the best place to watch jazz in Detroit. Opened by John Clifford Bell in 1935 after a slew of failed speakeasies and bars, the New York Times called Cliff Bells “the place to be in Detroit.” Its dimly lit setting and old-Detroit atmosphere are a breath of fresh air in Detroit jazz clubs that are few and far in between. Places such as Cliff Bells show the rich culture and history of the Detroit jazz scene and is a must-see for any music lover.

Rafael Statin and his band will bring their miraculous talents to Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids tonight, then to Motor City Wine on Michigan Avenue this Friday. Don’t miss out on what is sure to be some of the best jazz around today.

Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.

  • Rodney Thompson

    On Saturday August 16, 2014 at Cliff Bell’s in Detroit — I was there — and witnessed the entire amazing concert — and in fact, the Rafael Statin Quintet actually performed as a QUARTET for about half the evening — and this quartet included RAFAEL STATIN (saxes), ALEX WHITE (drums), IAN FINKELSTEIN (piano), and DAMON WARMACK (bass) (and NOT Robert Hurst on the bass, as your article states.) In the final set of music, they were joined by newcomer jazz guitarist extraordinaire GEOFFREY ESTY. The concert was a delightfully playful excursion into a fusion of funk, disco, rock, melodic soul/R&B, and contemporary jazz. RAFAEL STATIN’S performance was unparalleled, in terms of Detroit area jazz. He’s moving to NYC soon, but will continue to be a part of the Detroit jazz scene. ALEX WHITE might be the fastest & most agile drummers ever — his solos were executed with jaw-dropping — even unbelievable — speed and precision. I found myself asking myself, “Is that really humanly possible to perform drums like that?” Apparently it is possible, with Alex White. IAN FINKELSTEIN is a topnotch skilled jazz pianist with a most imaginative approach — and every moment of his performance was exciting. There were some unrehearsed musical “bursts” coming from his piano — including harmonizing a smooth-soul melody much like Thelonious Monk might have done it, with the original melody doubled a minor ninth below. I loved it ! DAMON WARMACK plays an electric 6-string bass — and often plays as if in a mystical merging of himself with his instrument — singing along with the active & funkish-jazzy melodics of the bass line he is playing. GEOFFREY ESTY plays a hollow-body Epiphone jazz guitar with his own fusion of influences readily apparent, including the stylings of jazz guitarists Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, Stanley Jordan, & Bill Frisell — as blended with funk, rock, & soul/R&B styles — and with a touch of flamenco & Brazilian-jazz. Here is a newcomer who is sure to develop into a truly unique & exciting jazz guitar artist. Cliff Bell’s was “overfull” with clientele — many were not able to be seated and had obtained “standing room only” admission. The RAFAEL STATIN QUINTET (i.e. QUARTET with guest guitarist) was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the audience, and their appreciation was well deserved by these furiously whimsical musicians with childish minds & master-craft-level skills. The Saturday August 16, 2014 concert session at Cliff Bell’s in Detroit may have been one of the most unique events in recent Detroit jazz history. I’m really glad I had the good fortune to be there — having chosen this event over a couple of other options for the evening. So glad I went to Cliff Bell’s !

    • Eric Kiska

      @Rodney Thompson:
      In the second paragraph I stated that I reviewed Friday’s show (not Saturday’s) where Robert Hurst was playing standup bass (as you see in the picture). I agree, though, what amazing talent! Cliff Bells only brings the best. Alex White also made my jaw drop to the floor. Wonderful show.

      • Rodney Thompson

        Oops – Sorry, I read your article too fast. Also sorry I missed Friday night with Robert Hurst, sounds like that concert would have also been amazing, too.