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Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Marcus Belgrave is a modernist with a deep love of earlier jazz history, and in recent years he has concentrated on celebrating the more entertaining aspects of the tradition. His Armstrong tribute band has been particularly successful, and in the same manner he has now releasedMarcus Belgrave Presents A Tribute to New Orleans, Ray Charles and the Great Ladies of Song Featuring Joan Bow and Charlie Gabriel (Detroit Jazz Musicians Co-Op, POB 36426, Grosse Point, MI 48236). All the above-mentioned sing, Belgrave demonstrates that his trumpet playing is as majestic as ever, and Gabriel shines on tenor sax and clarinet. They are backed by Bill Meyer (piano), Marion Hayden (bass), Gayelynn McKinney (drums), Cassius Richmond (alto sax), as well as three trombonists: Phil Ranelin, Keith Dewitt, and Steve Hunter.

The raucous, joyous atmosphere is established in a brief overture, Johnny Mercer and Wingy Manone's "Tailgate Ramble," which is recast as a closer at the end of the album. The repertoire consists of standards from the first half of the last century, and the soulful yet smooth singing of Joan Bow and the Armstrong-inflected voice of Belgrave dominate the sound. Gabriel, who sometimes plays the vocal role that Jack Teagarden took with Louis Armstrong, but who also provides lovely solos on saxophone and clarinet, nicely complements this pair. The small group sounds much bigger, sometimes recalling the Ray Charles band from the time when it featured Belgrave in the trumpet section.

One of the highlights is Bow's heartfelt version of Cindy Walker's "You Don't Know Me," well known from the Ray Charles recording, which also features lovely compact solos from Belgrave and Gabriel. There is only one instrumental number, Ellington's "The Mooche," which features Gabriel on clarinet and Ranelin on trombone.

Two of Detroit's top bassists have released their first recordings as leaders. Don Mayberry with Special Guests (Alembic Arts AACD 608 & 609) provides an extensive survey of Don Mayberry's full-time engagement with the local jazz community. On twenty-three tracks, spread over two CDs, each tune with different personnel, he demonstrates the sensitivity and skill that make him in such great demand among local and visiting musicians.

Mayberry keeps it simple: he outlines harmony and keeps time in exemplary fashion, always offering support and never getting in the way. Even on his own CD he only comes to the fore sporadically, stressing the supportive ensemble role of his instrument. His eighteen friends come from the top tier of Detroit are jazz players; as a result, this release provides a marvelous introduction to the current Motor City jazz scene.

For her debut recital as a leader Marion Hayden has taken a different approach. Rather than present a survey, Marion Hayden (Equinox Mansion Records, 141 Farrand Park, Highland Park, MI 48203) assembles a coherent septet to play well-crafted arrangements; the compositions include modern jazz classics by Charlie Parker and Lee Morgan, to pieces written by the leader, Kenny Cox, and members of the band, with only one standard ballad. Almost all of the members of this first-call group are current or former Detroit residents: Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Wendell Harrison (tenor sax, clarinet), Steve Turre (trombone), Kirk Lightsey (piano), Ralph Peterson (drums), and, on some tracks, Rob Pipho (vibraphone).

The music might be defined as modernized hard-bop; from the beginning one is reminded of classic Blue Note albums, beginning with Lee Morgan's "Mt. Kenyatta," followed by Kenny Cox's tribute to Art Blakey, "Buhaina." The aural Blakey association is assured by the three-horn front line, and by drummer Peterson, who often sounds very much like the Jazz Messenger himself. The album is well paced, the arrangements are tight and precisely played, and all the soloists seem to have had a good day, particularly Harrison, who is exquisitely expansive on tenor. The leader well demonstrates, whether in section, playing a head or solo, why she is rightly considered to be one of the top two or three bass players in Detroit.

Tad Weed is one of the area's most versatile musicians; he is at home in many settings, from accompanying singers to the most avant garde blowouts. He is featured, together with bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Shawn Dobbins, on Odyssey: Live at the Firefly Club (PKO 37). This is not a pickup band, but a tightly meshed working trio.

While the repertoire includes such well known pieces as "Along Came Betty," "What Is This Thing Called Love," and "Dat Dere," as well as more contemporary tunes, the compact arrangements always offer a new take on familiar strains. Cole Porter's "Love" is taken as a mambo, and Benny Golson's "Betty" is given a 5/4 feel; the trio makes this sound perfectly natural and unstrained, giving us a new perspective. Most important, the drive they achieve by working so closely together gives the whole recital a sense of propulsion that unites the various pieces, so that one has the sense of listening to a unified recital, rather than to a collection of unrelated items.

Weed seems to have an unlimited repertoire of skills, offering many colors, and Dobbins drives the trio with sensitivity as well as power. Krahnke is outstanding, locking in with the drummer, while providing perfect lines for the pianist. When called upon, he solos with grace, and few jazz bassists can match him when he picks up the bow. I should add that the sound production is first class, and the marvelously written liner notes by Pat Smith provide an exegesis of the album title, taking us from Homer to Joyce to bop.

Yuganaut consists of three multi-instrumentalists and composers: Stephen Rush (keyboards, toys, elk call, euphonium & more), Tom Abbs (bass, tuba & didjeridoo) and Geoff Mann (drums, cornet, mandolin & vibes). Their first CD, This Musicianship (BMR 5), offers a kaleidoscope of sound textures that defy easy definition. With so many instruments to play with, the band has a broad palate, and their eclectic vision incorporates and transcends many different musical styles, from rock, jazz, contemporary classical to Sun Ra and beyond; yet they somehow manage to maintain an identifiable group identity.

Electronic keyboards, bass, and percussion dominate the overall sound, and the other instruments are used around this. There are goofy elements — duck and elk calls, and various toys — but underneath it all there is a serious modernist agenda grounded in composition. Sometimes humor serves to undermine standard elements; a rock beat will bend over into marching territory, bend back again, and then move on into other directions. These compositions are demanding, but all three members of the group are highly schooled musicians who can do anything that their fellow travelers demand of them. Yuganaut demonstrates that it is possible to be eclectic and have a strong group identity at the same time.

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Index of SEMJA reviews

Southeastern Michigan
Jazz Association


is published monthly. 
It is edited by Lars Björn and Piotr Michalowski
with additional assistance from Barton Polot (production editor and Webmaster), Judy Alcock, Margot Campos, Lynn Hobbs, and Marcel Niemiec.