Jazz Is Dead 16 (New LP)Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Label: Jazz Is Dead
To be an independent artist means to not only be free to share your most ambitious artistic impulses, but to retain ownership of them, working tirelessly to market and produce a body of work that stands apart from corporate decision-making and interference. For Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison, it was this guiding principle that led them to found the Detroit-based Jazz label Tribe Records in the early 1970s. Focusing on self-reliance and communal support, Tribe provided a platform for local jazz artists such as Ranelin and Harrison to record and release albums, and had community members taking full control of the promotion and distribution. The label and its magazine set an important early precedent for community-driven arts organizations, and still stands as a testament to their potential and efficacy. Today, the legacy of Tribe lives on in labels like Jazz Is Dead, making these recordings at Linear Lab Studios in Highland Park all the more significant. In their latest dispatch, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad craft a poignant batch of new material that celebrates the lasting impact of Tribe, and the perpetual greatness of Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison. Emerging from misty trumpets and tremoring keys is album opener "Genesis", which takes its time introducing each element before breaking out into a fiery funk. On "Open Eye" kaleidoscopic percussion takes over, leading into a cool, Samba-inflicted guitar that flutters in between a formidable saxophone solo, courtesy of Harrison. From the moment the cymbals and bass take off on "Running With Tribe", the exhilaration remains high, before tempering into a slithering strut, the string section lingering in the background, both glistening and nervous. Coming in at the album's mid-point, "Fire In Detroit" blossoms from a gentle swing into a kinetic push and pull, showcasing the broad range of Younge and Muhammad's arrangements. Like its celestial namesake, "Ursa Major" illuminates and leads listeners through a sonic roadmap of the album's repertoire, contrasting softer meditative moments with jagged, fuzzed-out guitars and urgent drums. Entering with bass and quickly building into a trenchant groove, "Metropolitan Blues" features an exceptional trombone solo by Ranelin that feels as fresh as the maestro's work on classic albums like "The Time Is Now". Building around a call-and-response between the horns, keys, and percussion, album closer "Black Census" is a supercharged funk burner that peppers in woodwinds alongside hi-hats for an eclectic blend. You can hear the sheer joy of the musicians throughout the recording, so it more than makes sense to hear Harrison laugh at the end of the take. As each Jazz Is Dead record focuses on bringing a different legend from the past to the forefront and highlighting their deep contributions to Jazz and popular music, the label's most recent collaboration with Ranelin and Harrison is more than that: it is a symbolic passing of a generational torch, celebrating both groups' continued dedication to remaining independent, and continuing to produce compelling and unique Jazz music.