Detroit's Tribe is a musical and cultural collective that began as a collaborative effort between four musicians: reed player Wendell Harrison, trombonist Phil Ranelin, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and pianist Harold McKinney (patriarch of Detroit's first family of jazz). All were cultural activists, educators, and highly rated professional musicians. In the '60s- and '70s-era struggle for Black self-determination, they started their own label, published a magazine, tutored children, and connected the history of Detroit music, from the '50s jazz of Yusef Lateef and Barry Harris to Motown; the post-bop of Geri Allen and James Carter to techno (the latter is evidenced by its members participating in Carl Craig's Detroit Experiment and recording their Rebirth album in 2009).
While numerous reissues of the original Tribe recordings (some not authorized) and several compilations have appeared, Strut's Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014, showcases a later profile of the group all but unnoticed outside the Motor City, at least in the U.S. Of the ten tunes here, all recorded by Rebirth Inc. -- the organization developed by Harrison after the original Tribe amicably split for the first time -- only a few of them have been previously issued. These tunes were cut either at Harrison's WenHa/Rebirth studios in Detroit's Midtown area, or during a mid-'90s performance at the SereNgeti Gallery and Cultural Center. The swinging post-bop "Wide and Blue" by McKinney opens the set, and features the late, great pianist live in the company of trumpeters Belgrave (also deceased) and Jimmy Owens, Harrison on tenor sax, trombonist Kiani Zawadi, and a rhythm section comprised of former John Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman, drummer Gaelynne McKinney, and percussionist Francisco Mora. McKinney's "Juba," from the same 1995 gig, showcases his pioneering use of rhythmic poetry and percussion in Detroit jazz, which meets a swinging horn section playing Ray Charles-esque rhythm & blues. The funky soul-jazz of Ranelin's "Freddy's Groove" (a fine tribute to his former boss, Freddie Hubbard) and the spiraling modalism of "He the One We All Knew," are performed expertly by the trombonist, Belgrave, Harrison, pianist Pamela Wise, guitarist John Arnold, drummer George Davidson, and electric bassist Ralphe Armstrong. Wise's three contributions are drawn from her wonderful 2014 offering Kindred Spirits. She's accompanied by Harrison (her husband), trumpeter John Douglas (another techno connection since he's worked with Paul Randolph, Amp Fiddler, Theo Parrish), bassist Mike Palazzola, drummer Djallo Djakate, and guitarist Jacob Schwandt. Her percussion-and-piano-driven "Ode to Black Mothers" features four hand drummers and is narrated by Mbiyu Chui reading poetry. (Wise's wonderful 2017 album, A New Message from the Tribe, is also worth seeking out.) Though these tracks were recorded over a 25-year period, Harrison's production and sequencing are seamless. The music presented is as strong as anything on the comps Message from the Tribe: An Anthology of Tribe Records 1972-76 or Vibes from the Tribe, Vol. I and Vol. II. Author and critic Herb Boyd offers a fine historical essay and astute track analysis in the booklet. The recordings on Hometown contribute not only to the creative legacy of the Tribe, but also offer a tribute to the continued relevance of Detroit's deep, vibrant jazz scene.