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Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Then and now

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Detroit jazz of the ’70s, as evidenced on these excellent Phil Ranelin reissues from the period, was healthy indeed. Trombonist, composer and leader Ranelin collaborated with players who were making things happen in the Motor City, most notably saxophonist Wendell Harrison, to form Tribe: “a band, a record company and a magazine publication” (as P.R. writes in the notes to The Time is Now!). Chicago’s Hefty Records underscores that pivotal decade in our city’s cultural-political history by releasing two CDs of the Tribe collective’s finest efforts.

Despite Time’s superficial resemblances to Miles’ electric period, its nine cuts recorded in late 1973 and early 1974 showcase some mighty inventive writing (Ranelin in a Wayne Shorter-esque mood, but more striking are his Grachan Moncur III affinities) and audacious soloing from all involved. The set opens with “The Time is Now for Change,” an ominously skewed vamp that layers and bristles with Ranelin’s sinuous trombone over Keith Vreeland’s piano, John Dana’s bass and two drummers, George Davidson and Bill Turner, filling the air with the right amount of excess. Soon one living legend (Harrison, tenor sax) joins another (Marcus Belgrave, trumpet) for a step-by-step theme statement seasoned with spontaneous thoughts. Then each soloist unfolds a message, bringing all the rhymes and implications home to roost. On the second track, “Time is Running Out,” the stunning alto sound of Haroun El Nil is joined by Charles Moore’s spacious trumpet, with Reggie Shoo Be Doo Fields on bass, completing what amounts to one hell of an all-star band playing its heart out.

Vibes culls a later crop, from 1976, with results almost as delicious. Most of the same suspects are in the lineup, but the accent is a little further on the funk. The opener, “Vibes from the Tribe,” features Ranelin, Belgrave, Harrison and Davidson, with Lopez Leon and Ron English (electric basses) and Kenny Cox (electric piano). Added on later tracks are such hometown lights as Ralph Armstrong (electric guitar), Harold McKinney (piano), Faruk Hanif Bey (tenor and soprano saxes) and members of Griot Galaxy. As history lessons go, this is one you’d rather have drown out the drone of a lecture, as everybody has his good-time hat on. Only Ranelin’s post-Leon Thomas vocals seem expendable in retrospect.

A lovely intro to the scene back when.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at


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