Veteran reed player can still deliver interesting jazz after 50 years.
Wendell Harrison Tribe – Get Up Off Your Knees – Wenha Jazz/Tribe Records/Pure Pleasure Records (2021) 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 52:16 ****1/2:
(Wendell Harrison – tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; Louis M. Jones – drums; Jacob Schwantz – guitar; Trunino Lowe – trumpet; Vincent Chandler – trombone; Steve Woods – flute; Louis Resto – piano; Rev. Mbiyu Chui – spoken word; Pathe Jassi – vocals )
Wendell Harrison’s 50 year career as a jazz musician is very unique. One of the stalwarts of the Detroit music scene, he explored various musical styles. More importantly, he was involved in musical education and was renowned for mentoring younger players. Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram double vinyl of the latest configuration of Wendell Harrison Tribe. This current lineup consists of up and coming jazz players with a penchant for soul, funk, spoken word and socially aware themes. Side A opens with rich textures and smoothness on “Turn Around”. With a hypnotic funk beat, Harrison delivers a soulful, melodic lead. Classic rhythm backing includes guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. Jacob Schwartz delivers a nimble guitar solo before rejoining the band to anchor Harrison’s shimmering tenor. With a tight percussion (Louis Jones) and spoken word (Rev. Mbyu Chi), the aspirational poetic message of “Educators” is potent and resonates with integrity. There are many global influences and motifs that permeate these arrangements. After an atmospheric intro (including a gong), a waltz-time breezy jam ensues that features Steve Woods on flute and Harrison on clarinet. Louis Resto adds a swelling grandiosity with his airy chords. A deliberate subtle free jazz ending is a nice touch. Exotic musical translation drives “Woo In Tribute”. Steve Woods’ breezy flute riffs add texture, while Harrison counters on alto clarinet. The 3/4 time signature is magnetic.
In a distinct change of pace, the title track resonates with Latin-infused percussive charm. Vocalist Pathe Jassi lends her alto voice to the message of self worth. Trumpet accents offer emphasis and Harrison’s passion can be felt on saxophone. “First Love” begins with an airy presentation, but turns into a driving fusion jam (including a jagged electric guitar) with bluesy resonance. Reeds and horns provide muscle to the larger ensemble. Each cut has its own musical identity. The swaying rhythmic context of “Siera” invokes a township vibe and joyful expression. A slow groove rearrangement of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televisied” captures the acerbic poetic recital of the original with modern references. Festive tempos abound, especially on “Saga Of A Carrot”. The structure has big band dynamics and showcases Harrison wailing and exchanging with his band mates. Switching to medium swing, “What’s Up” is finger-snapping cool with rich charts. Schwartz executes another nimble solo against the “bandstand” before turning it over to Resto for an electrifying turn. A certain highlight of Get Up Off Your Knees is the relaxed nearly contemporary aesthetics of “Wandering Thoughts”. It displays cohesive rhythm patterns, blended sound and punctuated tempo breaks. There are outstanding solos from trumpeter Trunino Laws, Woods and Harrison.
Wendell Harrison is a jazz legend whose musical vision is still relevant. Pure Pleasure Records’ 180-gram pressing is superior with an evenly balanced sound mix.
Side A: Turn Around; Educators; Woo In Tribute (Tribute To Kresge Eminent Artist Marie Woo)
Side B: Get Up Off Your Knees; First Love; Siera
Side C: Revolution; Saga Of A Carrot; What’s Up
Side D: Samoulen Khale Yi; Wandering Thoughts.