Motown in the Big Apple
By Herb Boyd
Special to the Michigan Citizen
For more than a year now, Detroit has been commanding space in the media in New York City — mainly the coverage of the city’s fiscal crisis and the bankruptcy.
On the other side of the ledger is “Motown the Musical,” which after 500 performances on Broadway is still as fresh as “a brand new beat.” And in October, the show will be back in town where the music was created and shared with the world.
There is little less fanfare and notice for some other elements of Detroit in Manhattan, though the music of Marcus Belgrave and James Carter was recently reviewed and praised in two of the city’s more prominent publications, the New York Times and the Amsterdam News.Carter, as jazz fans have grown accustomed to since his saxophones began rocking venues a score of years ago, is a powerful disseminator of sound and fury, and there was a funky ferocity of servings last week at the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival in the city’s financial district.
His trio — with Gerard Gibbs at the Hammond B3 organ and Eli Fountain on drums — stopped folks in their tracks as they moved along the waterfront, many of them surprised by the rage of rhythm, and the thunder of Carter’s horns.
Taking turns on soprano, alto and his trusty tenor saxophone, Carter charged through a veritable encyclopedia of iconic performers. From the early jump music of Louie Jordan to the intervallic leaps of Eric Dolphy, to the squeaks and squawks of an Albert Ayler,
Carter was both a historian and entertainer. And Gibbs, whether evoking the mighty Jack McDuff, and Fountain, letting the crowd know of his kinship to the hard bop of Elvin Jones, were worthy co-conspirators as they underscored the “lowdown” promised in the festival’s title.
The blues surfaced in a variety of forms when the highly esteemed trumpeter Belgrave took his ensemble to Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center for a two-day engagement. A master teacher and a personable ambassador of jazz, Belgrave surrounded himself with his young proteges from Detroit, including bassist Marion Hayden, drummer Gaylene McKinney, pianist Ian Finkelstein, and tenor saxophonist Marcus Elliott.On opening night, Belgrave was content to let his bandmates relax and settle into a few timeworn standards, kind of warming on riff before letting loose the full arsenal of their repertoire. Whenever Belgrave takes the stand you can expect some nods to his hero Clifford Brown, but the emphasis in the beginning was to another notable trumpet player, Kenny Dorham, which meant a sizzling, straight ahead bebop burner.
This played right into the bailiwick of his rhythm section and the firm of McKinney, Hayden and Finkelstein knew exactly how to handle their leader’s wit and wisdom.They were equally adept in providing the shadings and colors for vocalist Joan Belgrave, the leader’s wife, during her tributes to Eddie Jefferson on “Bennies from Heaven,” a satirical take on an evergreen, and to Dinah Washington on “Caravan,” replete with sashaying to the North African tempo.Most rewarding was the group’s treatment of Quincy Jones’ “The Midnight Sun Never Sets,” with Belgrave on the flugelhorn.
This was their ballad that gave them room to reflect and each, particularly Elliott, Finkelstein and Belgrave, found a special way to interpret the lovely tune.
Having Belgrave, who once was a studio musician at Motown, and Carter, who was tutored by the late Ernie Rodgers at Northwestern High School, in the Big Apple almost at the same time was enough to make this old man homesick, and in September, I will be back to tend to a malady brought on by their melodies.