Our man on the spot, Ryan Hooper, looks back at the latest instalment of of the Red Bull Music Academy World Tour in Detroit.
The first half of Motor City Frequencies was dominated by techno and hip hop, but by Friday the focus was on jazz. Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and saxophonist Wendell Harrison were on hand to discuss the genesis of their Tribe Records imprint. A raspy-voiced Belgrave recounted early experimentation in the studio, while Harrison, a musical entrepreneur of sorts, recalled that the need to start their own label was driven by a desire to foster their own vision of the genre.
The cash created by their records helped 'move the message forward' at a time when most labels were giving jazzers the cold shoulder. The next night, Belgrave, Harrison and trombonist Phil Ranelin stormed the stage with a raw, funky, thundering set of Tribe cuts. The trio have been performing together for nearly 50 years and you could hear that in every note.
Following Belgrave and Harrison was Detroit's future-soul artist Amp Fiddler. The audience included rappers Black Milk, who recently wrapped up a collaboration with Jack White, and Phat Kat, who is currently releasing a song and corresponding video every month for a year.
Amp spent the first decade of his career touring with George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic as a keyboardist and merch man. Since then he's released a handful of critically acclaimed solo albums, worked with Prince and, more recently, performed with Questlove at RBMA’s Afro-Picks Paris.
'The trio have been performing together for nearly 50 years and you could hear that in every note'
Amp walked us through the evolution of his early single Waltz of a Ghetto Fly as well as his early connections with J Dilla: 'Back in 86, Dilla came to my door asking for help with some of his beat tapes,' recalled Amp. 'Later on, I introduced him to Q-Tip [of Tribe Called Quest fame] to help get him signed.'
Since the passing of his only son in ’09, Amp has kept out of the spotlight but he's been working with the Detroit producer Mike Chav on a double album that he describes as a mix between alternative and soul music, with a possible third album built around electronic music.
On the final day of Motor City Frequencies, two of Detroit’s most accomplished musicians -- Wayne Kramer and Paul Riser -- were welcomed to the stage.
Kramer, of MC5 fame, recounted the early days of his trailblazing rock ‘n’ roll group with the sort of storytelling showmanship that comes from a man well aware of his band's legacy.
Kramer's music with the MC5 was born out of distates for his country's actions in the late-60s. This was filtered into righteously pissed-off and face-scorching riffs. Kramer went on to profile his darker days, including his brief stint in prison, before talking about his band's legacy. 'The MC5 are more popular today than we ever were back then,' he laughed. He then took to his signature red, white and blue guitar to propel his way through High School, off the band's seminal Back in the USA album.
Riser, who arranged the strings on the majority of Motown’s greatest songs, casually jogged through his work on such tracks as Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Diana Ross’ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
After seven days of lectures and performances embracing Detroit's contribution to jazz, techno, hip-hop, soul and Motown, the RBMA World Tour had managed to tune Flat 151 into the right frequency.