Inspiration is trombonist/composer/bandleader Phil Ranelin's first self-led studio date in eight years. His last, A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind, was solid and wonderfully articulated and arranged, but was criminally under-recognized. Ranelin's star has been on the rise again in recent years with renewed interest in his recordings on Detroit's legendary Tribe Records imprint (which he co-founded)--reissued on the Hefty and P-VIne labels. Wide Hive has given Ranelin free rein in creating this tribute to his mentors and peers. Surrounding himself with a solid group of session players including saxophonists Louis Van Taylor, Zane Musa, Keith Fiddmont, and George Harper Jr., as well as stalwart percussionist Taambu, drummerLorca Hart, bassist Jeff Littleton, and pianist Danny Grissett,Ranelin composed all ten tunes on the set. As an arranger, his skill is consummate. He is never overly busy, and whether the music comes out of the modal, hard bop, post-bop, or even soul-jazz traditions, Ranelin remains firmly committed to the blues. Even while moving his music out toward the edges, he never lets the seams show. His arrangements are colorful and full of nuance and elegance, as evidenced by the nine-minute opener, "Freddie's Groove," with its beautiful chromatics and shaded Latin rhythms -- it swings like mad. Elsewhere, "This One's for Trane" features a guest performance by Pharoah Sanders. The tune itself uses a modal frame and stays rooted harmonically inside it, while letting Sanders walk out on the ledge a bit. His quoting of "A Love Supreme" in the solo is not only endearing, it is moving. Elsewhere, Tribe co-founder Wendell Harrison guests on "Beyond a Memory," and the funky "Horace's Scope" offers Ranelin's finest solo on the album. But the true measure of Ranelin's compositional and arrangement skills is found in the three-part suite honoring the late Eric Dolphy, which closes the album. Using harmonic concepts from the late saxophonist's own book, Ranelin burns an Afro-Cuban rhythm into the cut's groove, opens it up spatially and dynamically, and creates a head that becomes its own theme and variation as the various players move through solo territory. Grissett's piano work here is a guiding light, keeping the groove rooted while making room for the various individual players. Inspiration is a welcome return by a master jazzman. It is dignified, accessible, sophisticated, and soulful, and thus accurately reflects the characteristics of its creator.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek