If the 1960s was the decade of sexual liberation and psycho-pharmaceuticals, the 1970s was the decade of self-empowerment and community activism, and nowhere was this more true than in black America. Musicians were among the vanguard of the activists, forming collectives to increase their leverage within the "entertainment" industry and, through education projects, to strengthen their links with the communities in which they operated. The first, and still the best known, of these collectives was Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which was actually founded in 1965, but whose community work was ramped up significantly around 1970. Another was the Strata-East Records label founded by pianist Stanley Cowell and trumpeter Charles Tolliver in New York in 1971.
Less well rememberedand until now, barely documentedwas the Tribe collective, which ran a record label and published a quarterly black awareness magazine, and was active in Detroit from 1972-77. Among its organizers were trombonist Phil Ranelin, saxophonist Wendell Richardson and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.
British label Soul Jazz Records' lovingly put together package Message From The Tribe: An Anthology Of Tribe Records 1972-1976 includes a one-hour compilation of Tribe recordings, a 60-page booklet, most of it consisting of articles from Tribe magazine, and a selection of postcards featuring the magazine's front covers.
Between them, the Tribe musicians played with, on the one hand, drummer Max Roach, saxophonist Charlie Parker, keyboards spaceman Sun Ra, guitarist Grant Green and pianist McCoy Tyner, and on the other, with singers Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations; before Motown Records' relocation from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972, the musicians had supplemented their jazz earnings with session work at Motown. These experiencesand an enthusiasm for the electric grooves being contemporaneously championed by pianist Herbie Hancockall come together on the recordings included here. P-Funk originator George Clinton may have been the man who coined the expression "free your ass and your mind will follow," but Tribe subscribed to the same aesthetic, albeit with a lot more jazzsome of it distinctly "out"thrown into the mix.
The music is vibrant and timeless, but to read through the articles from Tribe is, in 2010, to step back 35 years. These were angry times, and it's no surprise to come across a review of a TV documentary which concludes: "Any doubts that the viewing audience may have had about the inherent bestiality of the white man were laid to rest with this telecast." More surprising is the inclusion of a sympathetic profile of the Detroit-based civil rights activist Father William T. Cunningham, "a Caucasian working towards the elimination of racism, discrimination and bigotry."
An important addition to the black music archive, Message From The Tribe walks the talk.
David Durrah: Space 2; Phil Ranelin & Tribe: Vibes from the Tribe; Phil Ranelin & Tribe: Sounds from the
Village; Doug Hammond: Moves; Tribe: Beneficent; Tribe: What We Need; Marcus Belgrave: Space Odyssey;
Phil Ranelin & Tribe: For the Children; The Mixed Bag: La Margarita; Doug Hammond: Wake Up Brothers;
Wendell Harrison & Tribe: Tons and Tons of B.S.; Tribe: Farewell to the Welfare.
Marcus Belgrave: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, miscellaneous instruments (2, 3, 5-7); Charles Moore:
trumpet, flugelhorn, miscellaneous instruments (5, 6); Phil Ranelin: trombone, vocal, percussion,
miscellaneous instruments (2, 3, 5-8, 11); Kareem Harris: tuba (11); Ralph Jones: soprano saxophone
(11); Otis Harris (or Harrison): alto saxophone (4, 10); Wendell Harrison: tenor saxophone, flute,
miscellaneous instruments (2, 3, 5-8, 11); Aaron Neal: bass clarinet, miscellaneous instruments (5);
Larry Nozero: reeds, flute, cuica (9); Buddy Budson: electric piano (3); Kenny Cox: electric piano (2); Geoff
Dunsun: keyboards (9); David Durrah: Moog & Arp synthesizer, piano, Fender Rhodes (1, 4, 10); Daryl Dybka:
mini Moog synthesizer (7); Charles Eubanks: electric piano, miscellaneous instruments (6); Harold McKinney:
piano, electric piano (7, 8, 11); Keith Vreeland: electric piano, miscellaneous instruments (5); Ralph
Armstrong: electric guitar, bass (3, 8); Jerry Glassel: guitar (9); Charles Burnhorn: violin (4, 10); Travis
Mickeel: violin (4, 10); Charles Metcalf: bass violin, electric bass (4, 10); Will Austin: electric bass, acoustic
bass (6, 11); Ron Brookes: bass (9); Ron English: electric bass (2); Reggie (Sho Be Doo) Fields: acoustic bass
(5); Lopez Leon: electric bass (2, 3); Ed Pickens: electric bass (7); Frederick Boon: percussion (4, 10); Roy
Brooks: percussion, miscellaneous instruments (7); Lorenzo Brown: bongos (7); Ike Daney: drums,
miscellaneous instruments (6); George Davidson: drums (2, 3, 8, 11); Barbara Huby (or Hubie): congas,
percussion (3, 8, 11); Dave Koether: percussion (9); Bud Spangler: percussion (8); Dan Spencer: drums,
percussion (9); Thomas (Turk) Trayler: percussion (4); Billy Turner: drums, percussion, miscellaneous
instruments (5, 7, 11); Lawrence Williams: congas (11); Doug Hammond: drums, melodica & Arp synthesizer,
vocals (1, 4, 10); Jeamel Lee: vocals (6).