Marcus Belgrave

Working Together

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This 1992 date between Detroit trumpet legend Marcus Belgrave and drummer/composer Lawrence Williams is a snapshot in time not only of the two principals, but of the Detroit jazz scene in general that was about to explode, with musicians either leaving town or making names for themselves that were big enough that they could call their own shots. Of the 11 compositions here, Williams wrote nine of them. The tone is elegant post-bop with modal shades thrown across an array of contemporary blues settings. If one considers "No. 6" and the "Prelude to No. 4 & No. 4," with their complex yet languid melodic lines and harmonic juxtapositions of major and minor key figures against a rhythmic backdrop that is swinging insistently yet gently, one can hear the entire history of Detroit jazz in the body of these tracks. If veteran pianist Kirk Lightsey and upcoming pianist Geri Allen are also taken into account, the sounds of Detroit's past and future can also be heard. Likewise, bassists Ralph Armstrong, David Williams, and giant Rodney Whittaker offer the deep funky soul inherent in every style of black music from Detroit. The title track and "Home to Home" work best, showcasing Belgrave's intimate yet intricate style, one that has been developed over 40 years playing with everyone and everything from Ray Charles to Charles Mingus to Motown. The two tracks are in some ways mirrors of each other: the open hard swing of the title track, with rhythmic accents hopped up all over the changes for Belgrave to shower with shining black notes, and the gospel groove of "Home to Home," with its steady-as-a-clock rhythm and in-the-pocket funk, where Williams swings it across the middle and Belgrave trades fours with him and Ikeda Alsushi on tenor. Even the inclusion of covers such as "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and Cole Porter's "One of Those Things" are altered by the band for Detroit-style street-conscious expression. The Porter tune has never had a reading where the original Tin Pan Alley melody was so reverently played and so deeply swung that it left its home base and went looking for another harmony to contain it. This is a hot date; it's another portrait in the making of the pool of jazz talent -- well-endowed yet under-recognized and deserving greater care -- that is Detroit.

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