Secrets & Space

Original Soundtracks of Transition

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The word "transition" in the title refers very specifically to the city this music comes from: Detroit. Forever Detroit has been known as a home to brash, trashy, drunker than loud garage rock music, the birthplace of techno, and the original home of Motown. What is seldom referred to is the relentless restlessness of the city's musical present. Certainly rock, rap, and techno are parts of that restlessness, but they are well-defined elementary particles in a much larger construct that also involves jazz in all its costumes from groove to free, funk, art pop, noise, and blurred canvasses of all of the above. "Secrets & Spaces" is about revealing and reveling in that restlessness. This is a music created by three of the city's finest musicians and composers, who have long been active not only on the fringes, but in the bloodstream of its musical architecture for 25 years: Luis Resto, Carolyn Striho, and David McMurray. This "soundtrack" highlights the movement of a creative spirit in the dark, shape-shifting its way to new forms of expressions while remaining firmly in touch with the notion that Detroit is a working-class city, one of tremendous spirit amid ruinous architectures; it is a place where the diverse terrains of collaboration and individuality are nurtured with ferocity and vision. Each of these collaborators is a composer as well as a musician. Striho writes gorgeous psychedelic pop songs that come from the silver edge of midnight. Check her poetic "Necklace" where keyboards and guitars twine the lyric and its impressionist portrait that is as drenched in musical metaphor as it is lyrical. Her track "Breathing Space" is an aching anthem of poetry and longing for the maintenance of a personal space that may already be over the horizon. Likewise, Resto's "Bravo" sounds like an outtake from a lost, greasy rhythm and punk track by David Sylvian -- if Sylvian had the teeth to sing like that. Resto's "Surrender," with its shimmering piano lines and trance-like acoustic guitar backdrop, is also a city song, one that resounds with the notion one seldom hears in urban environs yet calls out with abandon on every corner ever inhabited by a human being: "love's one decree/surrender to me." McMurray, who has spent his time in the city's mainstream post-bop jazz scenes and with Was (Not Was) cuts instrumental grooves that come from the End-of-the-World Lounge, which is, precisely what Detroit is, thank goodness. His deep soul tenor playing is reminiscent in tone to Coltrane's Atlantic period, especially on his "Time & Spaces," a duet with drummer Ken Scott. They lyrical edge in his playing shimmers through Scott's attention to percussion as space. There is a line of modal insistence in McMurray's playing that calls forth every nighthawk from the city's streets and asks them to warm their hands by his slow, lonely fire. Writing fine songs that accent each member's strengths is only one part of what this trio and their sidemen pull off. They also take songs from the city's heritage and from its heritage of feeling and work them into the mix. There is Striho's slow, purposeful reading of Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Reach Out I'll Be There" with a supporting vocal from ex-Detroiter Patti Smith, as well as her vocal performance of Smith's sister Kimberly's "Destiny Plans." But there is also McMurray and Resto's move on the aforementioned tenor legend's "Equinox," which reads like an entirely funky, outer-world/inner-visioned urban-bodied baby born of its original microtonal splendor. And finally there is Thom Bell's "I'll Be Around," which rings -- via a dual percussion section of the two Rons, Pangborn and Otis, with Joey Mazzola's in the slip guitar wrangling. But as a trace of its former self, it speaks, and with the finality of spiritual and aesthetic authority that there is life in Detroit after Detroit. Legends are only stories of the past, but art breathes and talks its trash every day, rising up into the streetlights to reveal itself as a healthy shiny angel adorned in grease and sweat and is all the more elegant for it. This is truly a recording of secrets and strengths; a record that looks firmly ahead and disdains nostalgia.

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