Phil Ranelin – Vibes From The Tribes – Pure Pleasure Records (2018) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 40:33 ****:
Like many jazz artists, Phil Ranelin connected with a broader audience after his prime. A native of Indianapolis, the trombonist played with Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding and Larry Ridley. Eventually Ranelin settled in Detroit and played with various Motown artists including Stevie Wonder and The Temptations in the 1970’s. There he met saxophonist Wendell Harrison and formed a band, The Tribe. This partnership extended to a communal proprietary record label and magazine all dedicated to the conceptual awareness of the African-American culture. While the label was short-lived, Ranelin released three albums, Message From The Tribe (1972), The Time Is Now (1974) and Vibes from The Tribe (1975). The complex and cutting-edge music intermingled various elements of avant-garde jazz, soul-jazz, free jazz, post bop and fusion. His commitment to socio-political expression and jazz genre-bending iconoclasm was intriguing and ahead of its time.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram remastered vinyl of Vibes from The Tribe. As Side One opens (title track) with some peculiar avant-garde atmosphere and trumpet, the unexpected takes root. A strong drum backbeat and thick bass lay down a fusion-funk groove. The polyrhythmic, free-wheeling structure adds electric piano (it is the 70’s) as Ranelin assumes a prominent saucy trombone lead against Marcus Belgrave’s crisp trumpet. A wah- wah guitar (Kenny Cox) builds the tapestry. Things are significantly cohesive on a soul jazz arrangement, “Sounds From The Village”. This hard-driving jam features Ranelin playing against a muscular tenor saxophone by Wendell Harrison who offers a blistering solo. Buddy Budson simply percolates on electric piano, before turning it over to Ranelin. His trombone licks are ferocious, and the eventful 3:44 cut ends with trombone and sax wailing together. In the first of two consecutive vocal pieces, “Wife” evokes an airy resonance. This is fueled by Harrison on flute. An element of sophistication is provided by pianist Harold McKinney. Ranelin’s warm baritone voice is accessible and he takes on complicated vocals that have sone dissonance. His trombone solo is fluid and harsh simultaneously, countered by a swirling, urbane piano, drum and bass. Moments of punctuation (instrumental and voice) are intriguing.
The second voice number is “For The Children”. This is as close to a traditional jazz arrangement on the album. The Latin-infused aesthetics are driven by the inspired flute play of Harrison. McKinney’s piano is perfectly suited to this jam as Ranelin and Harrison play in lockstep. There is an up tempo shift, augmented by additional percussion. Ranelin’s solo is rhythmic and fluid, followed by a jaunty piano run. A subtle key modulation is also effective. Side One ends as it begins with a 0:55 reprise of “Vibes from The Tribe”. Side Two represents a deep contrast. Ranelin is joined by The Griot Galaxy on “He, The One We All Knew (Parts 1 & 2)” it is a unbridled abstract improvisational performance inspired by John Coltrane (per the liner notes). With opposing rhythm structures (tight at the bottom, loose at the top), the musical themes take on an exotic, almost Middle Eastern context (enhanced by Daud Abdul Kahafiz on zeetar), Faruk Hanif Bey adds color on soprano saxophone and his shrillness against the trombone creates an organic tension. Ken Thomas injects some bluesy attitude in his piano solo. The underlying rhythm is relentless. Ralph Armstrong is propulsive on bass and Tariq Abdus Samad keep up with his drumming and executes a deft solo. When Ranelin rejoins, things morph to a more linear swing mode. he exchanges with piano (sort of a call and response) and “squawky” free jazz tenor.
Pure Pleasure Records does their customary superior job of vinyl 180-gram re-mastering. The stereo separation is flawless. The wide range of Ranelin’s trombone tonal flexibility is captured with vibrancy. The lower end of the mix is consistent and forceful. This is an interesting jazz album by a cultural visionary.
Phil Ranelin – trombone, percussion, vocals; Marcus Belgrave – trumpet; Wendell Harrison – tenor saxophone, flute; Lopes Leon – electric bass; Ron English – electric bass; Kenny Cox – electric piano; George Davidson – drums; Barbara Huby – percussion; Ralph Armstrong – electric guitar, bass; Buddy Budson – electric piano; Harold McKinney – piano; Bud Spengler – percussion; Faruk Hanif Bey – tenor/soprano saxophone, congas; Daud Abdul Kahafiz – zeetar; Ken Thomas – piano; Tariq Abdus Samad – drums
Side One: Vibes from The Tribe (Prelude); Sounds From The Village; Wife; For The Children
Side Two: He Is One We All Knew (Parts 1 & 2)
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