"When I think of Detroit Life, these are the people I think of, these musicians and the people like them who make their art and their lives in the wilds of the former Motor City and live to tell the story -- these people and the ones who used to be here with us, and the ones who showed us the way, and the young ones who are coming up now with the bohemian tradition, and all the people who have survived and sustained themselves as the city collapsed and rotted all around them." --John Sinclair. Detroit Life
DETROIT LIFE: JOHN SINCLAIR AND HIS MOTOR CITY BLUES SCHOLARS.
Produced by John Sinclair. Recorded and Mastered by Mike Boulan at the Jazz Loft, Detroit and Sraight Ahead Studio. 2009 NO COVER PRODUCTIONS. www.nocover.net
Johnny Evans Tenor Saxophone
James O’Donnell Trumpet
Phil Hale Keyboards
Chris Rumel Bass
Martin "Tino" Gross Drums
Johnnie Bassett Guitar
Jeff "Baby" Grand Guitar
Lyman Woodard Hammond B-3 Organ
Duncan McMillan Hammond B-3 Organ
Ibrahim Jones Bass
RJ Spangler Drums
Milton Hale Drums
John "T-Bone" Paxton, Trombone
Rick Steiger Baritone Saxophone
Thornetta Davis, Backing Vocal and
The Lyman Woodard Organization With Special Guest Marcus Belgrave.
A brand new album from poet John Sinclair signals a time to kick back, listen up and pay attention to the music and the words. Detroit Life: John Sinclair and his motor City Scholars – released on NO COVER records 2009 - serves up 15 hot slices of Detroit life as perceived through the lense of John Sinclair and his roaming band of legendary Detroiters’.
I've been paying attention to the words of John over the last three years - a meer drop in the ocean of vast timescape that his works traverse - yet in this relatively short time i have seen a phenomenal artistic output form him – musical and literary - shedding live and studio recordings books and articles wherever he travels; ping! Truly the hardest working poet in show-business, with a gritty street level reality expressed through his language; American life, love’s and sorrow translated with a great compassion; unifying humanity and culture, music and poetry, head and heart.
TRACK 1: “The Screamers”. James O’ Donnell and Jeff “Baby” Grand come firing out the gate. Overgrown sidewalks of Detroit memory music, Martin “Tino” Gross serving up the sweet shuffle groove and beautifully defined snare work on this classic Detroit Blues tour de force. The poem invoking a band of screaming artists that reclaim the overgrown streets of Detriot – historical gangsters of love, a loud and chattering ensemble of sincere rebels in the street. Arranged by Charles Moore - the Screamers - begins the swirling history of Detroit, retold through poetry, framed and bound by the beat bounced into yr/ heed by the poet.
“Life in the ruins of modern-day Detroit is not for the weak – minded nor the faint of heart” reminds me that Detroit Life has many challenges, many Blues, and to emerge from the last 50 years of life in America without a terminal case of angry man’s disease, and continue spreading an equal amount optimism and a message of freedom to choose, love and tolerance - seems to me - to be a great accomplishment for any American who lived through the 1960’s and the evidence is captured here on this recording, a diary of Detroit Life – Love’s, losses, riots – mixed into a musical medicine that helps to heal the deep wounds and fissures cut into Detroit by the greedy corporate vampires, spearheaded by BUSH 2.0 and the 8 year long hijacking of America.
TRACK 3: “april in paris” Arranged by Johnny Evans, another reworked Monk Tune. John launches into tales of bird with strings., bud powell and the Be Bop masters turning corny broadway music inside out and broadway itself - upside down”. “standards. STANDARDS. “Hammered in to the public body. Turning the western world on it’s ear.” John says; ” blam’ blam’ blam’ blam’ blam’ blam’ “They set a STANDARD so HIGH that we’re still trying to reach it.” Snappy drums, snare flares and buzz in the air. The longing for geographical teleportation, a travel blues, longing for April in Paris, but the body stuck in Detroit, or somewhere else. Once more the music brings the listener home, having been on a journey to somewhere, or several places, seemingly at once.
Each of the 15 tracks stirs up the sweet and sour equation that defines - Detroit Life - music and words cooked to just precisely the critical temperature so as to sizzle into the heart and mind like Thunder and Lightning, and help melt away, or dry up the mild depression that seems compulsory to modern city life in 2009, like a fluffy cloud dissolving through the ear - clear skies open up with the music - and help propel the thinking individual into a new historical place, guided by the groove and getting THE NEWS from John’s timeless languaging engines of creation, in the music.
TRACK 5. “Monk’s Dream”, realized and pulled back through the Vortex by the poet and presented here in full glory with Johnny Evans on sax and Martin Gross swinging the dream out of it’s mind, in the middle of the night Monk’s Dream came through, Monk’s Dream realized through Street Art, Street Sculpture and poetry, the self-reference of Monk’s Dream – the spellbinding tune - playing on the radio on the outside porch’ while all around the soundwaves are reflected off of earth works and inside out objects of ART arranged in a special way, on Heidleburg Street. “like tyree say – there are so many openings in life, you only have to choose the right one.”
John provides another blueprint for such a universal artists workshop, and maybe what the curriculum might touch upon. Thinking, acting and speaking – Glocally - John Sinclair binds the environment and language into hip messages. Tales including friends, story condensed into track title, and including favourite song lyric and with the music glued all over the language place – the shrine of truth a beauty or the poem, a pulsating historical tapestry of the Detroit Rainbow coloured variety. The Motor City tales that head through the Odyssey of Detroit Life, Love, Loss, Laughter, Sorrow, Uprising; and anchors the smells tastes and lingo’ from that particular, specific intersection point, each word wrapped up in the sound of the music – a pivot - the foundation and the structure of poetry, observation and FEEDBACK spread out in all directions – omnidirectionally - throughout Detroit and the engines of John Sinclair and his Blues Scholars.
TRACK 8: “all alone”. Introduced by Famous coachman' speaking by way of a pre-recorded sample, setting the scene for the Cadillac bluesman - Johnnie Bassett - to launch into sensual jazz-inspired blues licks – ice-coffee and cherries swirl in an upward fountain - a jazz-blues equation exploring a world where slowness is beauty and radiance of the soul. A Guitar duet with the Hammond B3 of Phil Hale - keys on your knees if you please; serving a sermon of energy. Whirling the heart around like a fan belt on a summers day, then softly as a evening sunset – burning honey under the heat –“baby i do” - The poet’s love for blues and humanity, the healing of separation fielded by the band and arranged to push the light’s to the ON position!
The music on Detroit Life comfortably covers all the bases, to borrow a phrase from a friend, and takes one on a historical journey of Detroit in a similar fashion to the John Sinclair guided tour of American Blues “Fattening Frogs For Snakes”, rumoured to soon be available as a complete box set, text and music together. The hidden wisdom and timeless genius of legendary street artists of Detroit; who came up from hardships and poor ruined areas to somehow produce innovative and beautiful art is rendered and annotated by John in a way that reminds the reader/listener of the rebellious spirit implicit in any art by definition.
TRACK 10: “Street Beat”. Martin Gross whisking up a second line beat to a Raspy vamp accenting on the first two syllables of the words - “Street Beat” – the rhythm the rhythm and the street word of legendary drummer “papa J.C heard” recontextualized by the poet, spewing out from a new historical setting: (The Jazz Loft, Detroit, April 21, 2008). A poem and roll-call of drums, another biographical verse – the fact’s and figures, the dates, quotes and details, from Dizzy and other great authorities: “J.C heard brought us the word, and the beat of the street...He made it swing” and the music swings around again, rolling again, another heroic tale of an extra-ordinary individual, from Detroit, placed in a musical setting, placed in a musical setting, with poetry, with poetry, with music.
Five of the fifteen tracks are re-worked Theolonious Monk compositions and feature new musical interpretations by the scholars and translations into words by John. Monk is reflected throughout every poem on the album, explicitly on “April In Paris” and “Monk’s Dream”. Monk’s music and Monk’s philosophy interweave with John’s, the word sound pulse dancing through text into the air and mixed with drum, bass, guitar and sax languages, criss-crossing a new definition of Detroit Life.
TRACK 12: “Bags Groove” The timeless standard pulled through groove space by Milton Hale on drums, Ibraheem Jones on bass - James O’ Donnell and Johnny Evans - peppering the mind’s screen with melody. The poet presents a celebration of art, music and word from the Detroit renaissance – a massive role call to the greats - named and reclaimed, given extra hand, clear tone and dashings of volume. The breath of life re-circulated into the names, propelled out and reconfigured through the a trumpet horn, a guitar, a drum, to riff’ to the ends of the earth, and swing till time stands still, the drums like a rhythmic motor car chases holding the song-vehicle in position - the lush mix of word sound and power bounded by historical details, precise fact if circumstance, truth and beauty, and a Detroit Jazz and blues roll call to the gods, invoking the legends of Motor City Culture, the music itself and characters that “Made the Motor City Great”.
John Sinclair and his Blues scholars, combined with all the characters scaffolding through into the music by way of poetry form an Historical University sized resource, in that they branch out into the historical events and legendary characters of Detroit, and beyond, but thankfully in an underground street level tradition, beatnik and polarising the mainstream corporate controlled and mega-media manipulated – history - of music and culture into a new musical language and ‘tale of the motor city tribe’ one man’s tale of the tribe - Blues, Jazz, and life in verse.
(Cover photo by Leni Sinclair 1965 of John passing - what seems to me to be - a joint to horn player and philosopher Charles Moore).
“Thus, all three extensive epics make extensive use of direct quotations from the actual records left by the past. As was noted earlier, this practice helps to establish the poet’s authority as a trustworthy historian, and serves to deflect our tendency to treat his discourse as a purely subjective creation. But Walter Benjamin saw another and more subtle purpose in this technique, one I think Ezra Pound, Williams Carlos Williams, Charles Olson and [John Sinclair] also instinctively utilized. In Benjamin’s eye’s, the judicious use of quotations offers one of the most effective means of overcoming the historiography of pure power and political dominance. As Irving Wohlfart notes, for Benjamin, “the function of quotation is to break up the unified, totalitarian blocks that comformist historiography passes out as history,” it “isolated the elective affinities between the present and specific moments of the past. To grasp such correspondences is to seize the chance of the moment” (on Benjamin’s last reflections, “Glyph 3, 1978. P. 181). – Micheal Bernstein, Conclusion, The Tale of the Tribe, p. 274.