Motor City Scene – Bethlehem Records

by | Jan 16, 2014 | Jazz CD Reviews

Motor City Scene – Bethlehem Records BCP-6056, 42:49 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

(Donald Byrd – trumpet; Pepper Adams – baritone sax; Kenny Burrell – guitar; Tommy Flanagan – piano; Louis Hayes (“Hey” Lewis) – drums; Paul Chambers – bass)

Author Steve Hamilton in his latest novel Let It Burn has one of his characters say the following about current day Detroit: ”Just take some time today and drive around. You have to see what has happened to our old Motown”. So when Motor City Scene (aka Stardust) was originally recorded for Bethlehem in 1960, Detroit was a very different city with a vibrant jazz scene filled with young musicians who were on their way up, and often as not, out.

All of the musicians on this session had strong ties to Detroit either by birth or moved there at an early age and began their playing career in that city. This was presented as a free-wheeling blowing session of bop-oriented pieces for the most part. The idea was to let the players have sufficient time to develop their solo ideas in the most original manner. Leading the way is a singular effort by Donald Byrd on trumpet on the Hoagy Carmichael/ Mitchell Parish standard “Stardust”. With Flanagan/Chambers/Hayes offering stellar support, Byrd treats the composition with grace and elegance and floats with the melody as he uses it to delve into all its charming places. Flanagan uses his solo time as was his habit, with sparse notes, phrases, and taste that became his trademark. Pepper Adams takes center stage with his own composition “Philson” and reminds everyone that he was a bop swinger with a groove. Guitarist Kenny Burrell then jumps into the fray with a short but delightful interlude which brings Flanagan into the mix, with Chambers playing a strong walking bass. Byrd then offers a series of triplets that lets everyone know that he is around.

While Errol Garner may be best remembered for his composition Misty”, he was, in fact, a fairly prodigious composer with over 35 compositions to his credit, including among others “That’s My Kick”, “Left Bank Swing” and “Trio,” which the band uses to a great result. It’s a swinger which opens with some chording from guitarist Burrell and then Adams picks up the theme to take off in an extended solo. Each of the band members follows along to great effect as they take advantage of the frame to extend their solos. Towards the end, drummer Louis Hayes shows his dexterity in two-bar exchanges with both Adams and Burrell. Another Adams original is a Latin themed number entitled “Libeccio” which is simply a romp for the band with Byrd, Adams, and Burrell stretching out. The session closes with a Thad Jones number “Bitty Ditty” in a boppish vein, but with a melody that is discernible and harmonious with some delicious unison playing from the front line.

Offtimes a look back at the past is not a good thing, but in this case it is something to be fondly remembered.

TrackList: Stardust; Philson; Trio; Libeccio; Bitty Ditty

—Pierre Giroux

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