Chris Canas Band (with Emmalee Jazz Quartet) – Detroit: Concert of Colors
July 15, 2017
Sometimes walking through Detroit, you happen upon things you weren’t expecting. No, not bad things. On a recent Saturday, there was a discussion between my wife and I about venturing into the city for a festival that was advertised on the local PBS station. Neither of us remembered the name. So we wandered into the city without a destination other the “Somewhere in Midtown.” We found nothing. So we gave up and started to head downtown and poof, there it was right next to Orchestra Hall, The Concert of Colors.
Produced by the Arab American National Museum with partners Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Institute of Arts, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, University of Michigan, et al, the concert celebrates ethnic diversity in the Detroit area. It has been a free event for 25 years. The magnitude of this event was a lot bigger than we thought with many national and local artists including Don Was, who at one time was also a local.
On a small stage in the courtyard of the Max M and Marjorie S Fisher Music Center, we arrived in time to see a familiar face around Detroit, that of Emmalee. She brought along with her three University of Michigan music program students, from which she hails, and knocked the socks off if the lawn sitting crowd gathered thus far. Emmalee, Alexis Lombre (piano), Brian Juarez (bass), and David Alvarez (drums) all delivered fine performances.
Headlining this stage was Chris Canas Band and by the looks of the crowd growth, this was the act to see. We waited and it was not in vain. Blues artist Chris Canas, who turns 33 on July 18th, delivered a stunningly powerful performance, reminiscent of Albert Collins in his prime. The B3 (-ish, nobody actually carries on those around anymore, ouch) was delivered in all its “valvy” goodness by Hammond endorsed Chris Nordman, a keyboardist and man of many other talents. Backup vocals, at times massively strong lead vocals, was Angela Cottingham, and by coincidence, Angela is Chris’ mom. Michael Scott and Joe Aranda delivered the rhythm on drums and bass.
Chris’ vocals were surprising powerful. He pulled off Prince’s “Kiss” so well vocally you’d swear Prince is still with us and as Chris often does with covers, he made it his own. His originals were intensely creative and refreshing take on an old genre accompanied by some fantastically assembled solo work from a nice shiny Les Paul. His stage presence was captivating and there were plenty of local fans who couldn’t get enough.
This is the kind of band you hope hits it big. But not so big that you can’t see them, for free, on a Saturday afternoon in Detroit.