This week JazzWrap looks at a few rare and new soul jazz albums which helped shape the genre and moved them it forward.
Marcus Belgrave (trumpet; b. 1936)
Gemini (reissue on Universal Sound, originally release Tribe Records 1974)
Phil Ranelin (trombone) Wendel Harrison (sax)
Billy Turner (drums) Roy Brooks (drums)
Lorenzo Brown (bongos) Ed Pickens (bass)
Harold McKinney (electric piano) Daryl Dybka (moog)
Emerging from a Detroit psychedelic funk movement of Detroit in the '70s, Marcus Belgrave has turned into one of the elder statesman of jazz in Detroit. His talents have been instrumental to recordings by a myriad of artists including; Kenny Garrett, Charles Mingus, Gerri Allen and most significantly Ray Charles and pop/alternative funkmiesters Was Not Was. Marcus Belgrave also studied under one the great trumpeters ever, Clifford Brown. Belgrave's ability to move up and down the scales does have many to remark the similarity to his famous mentor. His more recent recordings still contain some groovy elements but nothing like his 1974 album, Gemini.
Gemini is an amazing and weird blend of swing and funky beats. The opening track "Space Odyssey" starts out with some great atmospherics from Daryl Dybka (moog) before diving into the slow funk groove of Harlod McKinney (electric piano) and lead by Belgrave and the rest of the horn section. This is heady stuff by worthy of a couple of glass of wine. The unison that Belgrave, Harrison and Ranelin have throughout "Space Odyssey" and the rest of the recording is superb.
Gemini shows Belgrave's versatility on the swinging "Marcia's Opal" which mixing the big band aspects with the some great noodling from McKinney. It's crazy to say this but its like a big band doing a swing version of Miles Davis fusion material. Weird, trippy but definitely cool. This ensemble while not a big band sure performs like one at times and it gives Gemini a great deal of depth.
The standout track for me is "Glue Fingers I & II" which is a fierce little number with interchanges across the band. This is definitely the highlight for Belgrave and Ranelin. It's a big, full bodied sound with great accompaniment from the percussion and drum section and again McKinney's electric piano.
Gemini is funky, head twisting stuff that not only demonstrates the expert skills of Marcus Belgrave, it signifies the marvelous talents of the band he surrounded himself with. They were mostly Detroiter's whom are still active today. Gemini is a stellar document of the Detroit jazz scene in the '70s (a scene which gets overshadow by the history of Motown) and an album which many may not know about you should definitely pick it up. Gemini has been distributed under two different covers but if you see "Space Odyssey" and "Glue Fingers" listed than you found yourself a little piece of history. Enjoy.