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.