TRIBE-HOMETOWN: DETROIT SESSIONS 1990-2014.

Tribe-Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014.

Label: Strut and Art Yard.

The story of Tribe began in Detroit in 1971, when saxophonist Wendell Harrison and trombonist Phil Ranelin cofounded the groundbreaking independent jazz collective. This was just the start and soon, the pair decided to setup a live collective and founded Tribe Records. 

Their new indie jazz label would release a series of innovative albums  that were sadly overlooked by critics and record buyers. This included classic An Evening With The Devil which was released in 1972 by Wendell Harrison. He and Phil Ranelin then released A Message From The Tribe a year later in 1973. Sadly, neither album was a commercial success and it was much later before these two musical visionaries were receiving the critical acclaim their music deserved.

Wendell Harrison and Phil Ranelin consistently created  groundbreaking music that was always way ahead of the musical curve. They also encouraged others to innovate when they created music.  However, Tribe and Tribe Records weren’t alone in doing so.

Across Detroit, African American jazz artists were part of a vibrant underground scene.  Cultural entities and record labels were founded and provided an outlet for groundbreaking musicians who were determined to take jazz in a new direction. One of the labels was Kenny Cox’s Strata Corporation which released a series of innovative albums that sadly, were also overlooked upon their release.  

Meanwhile, cultural entities like Bruce Millan’s Repertory Theater plus John and Leni Sinclair’s Artist Workshop were an important part of this exciting new scene. So was the Hastings Jazz Experience and saxophonist Ernie Rodgers who held sessions at Rapa House. Jazz in Detroit was fortunate to have such innovative and inventive musicians as well as Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison who were playing as Tribe.

Wendell Harrison philosophy of independence, self-determination and education were an important part of the Tribe ethos. He explained that: “I might be possessed with a drive to get the knowledge out because I see this as sustaining the future of the jazz diaspora, the jazz tradition.”

This included his 1972 album An Evening With The Devil and his 1973 collaboration with Phil Ranelin A Message From The Tribe. These albums could’ve and should’ve helped shape jazz and may have done if they had been released on a label with the resources to promote them properly. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Four years after the release of A Message From The Tribe, Wendell Harrison joined forces with pianist and composer Harold McKinney  in 1977 to form Rebirth Inc. They were joined by poet, writer, and political activist John Sinclair in a group that had the same philosophy as Tribe. In many ways, Rebirth Inc was a continuation of Tribe. 

The newly formed Rebirth Inc soon formed a link with the city’s radio station, and  setup an outreach program to educate children. Rebirth Inc also published the jazz instruction books Wendell Harrison wrote. However, that wasn’t all he was involved with.

Wendell Harrison continued to record groundbreaking music. He recorded extensively for his own labels Tribe and WenHa. Usually, the sessions were led by Phil Ranelin and included Harold McKinney and Pamela Wise. They were joined by a variety of likeminded musicians who were capable of creating tomorrow’s music today. Sadly, much of that music was never released including the music on a new Tribe compilation Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 which was released by Strut and Art Yard.

Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 documents three decades of music made by Tribe and Rebirth Inc. The ten recordings took place at various studios and locations including Wendell Harrison’s own WenHa and Rebirth Studios as well as the SereNgeti Gallery And Cultural Center. These tracks are a mixture of rarities and unreleased tracks and are a reminder of two jazz collectives whose raison d’être was to create music that was innovative and inventive.

Proof of that is the album opener the pulsating Wide And Blue which was written by and features Harold McKinney and his McKinfolk ensemble of musicians.  He also wrote the joyous and celebratory  Juba which is akin to a call to dance. It’s one of many highlights on the ten track Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 compilation. So is the evocative sounding Conjure Me brings to mind juju with its power and grandeur.

Fittingly, there’s two contributions from Wendell Harrison’s onetime musical collaborator trombonist Phil Ranelin. This includes Freddie’s Groove and He The One We All Knew where Wendell Harrison reinvents what’s regarded as one of his classic tracks.

One of the most powerful, moving and some may say uncompromising selections is Ode To Black Mothers which was penned by Mbiyu Chui and Pamela Wise.  The pair also wrote Marcus Garvey a truly thought-provoking track. Pamela Wise also penned Hometown, which is eight minutes of captivating and inventive music.

Closing Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 is another thought-provoking track The Slave Ship Enterprise which features one of the best performances on the compilation. It finds Wendell Harrison and his band  still creating music that is innovative and ahead of the musical curve.

Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 is a reminder of Tribe and Rebirth Inc, the two groundbreaking groups that Wendell Harrison led during a career that spanned five decades. During his career he was a musical innovator who was determined to ensure that jazz evolved and remained relevant. This he did with Tribe and then Rebirth Inc.

Wendell Harrison also believed in independence, self-determination and education which were an important part of the Tribe ethos. As well as a musician he was an entrepreneur running his own record labels and publishing his own books; an educator who was determined to improve the lives of young people and a social activist. He made his mark in music and in the wider community. People remember Wendell Harrison not just for his music, but for trying to make a difference. Not many people try to do that, never mind succeed.  However, Wendell Harrison succeeded and also created so much groundbreaking music throughout his long and illustrious career,  including the ten majestic, memorable and genre-melting tracks on Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 which feature two of his best known groups Tribe and Rebirth Inc. 

  Tribe-Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014.

 

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