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Various Artists: Detroit Jazz City

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Not only is the title of this album great (pace Kiss), but so is the concept behind it, as cooked up by Blue Note Records president and Detroit native Don Was. First, compile a mix of new and old recordings to remind listeners how many great jazz players have come from the Motor City. Second, donate all proceeds from the compilation to Focus: HOPE, an organization that aids the poor and struggling in southeast Michigan. You can’t fault it idealistically, and aesthetically it hangs together pretty well too.

Recent Was-produced tracks alternate with classic Blue Note cuts throughout, a choice that emphasizes nifty connections. Bassist Marion Hayden opens the program with a blow-down-the-doors version of “The Uncrowned King”-whose composer, pianist Kenny Cox, takes the spotlight next on “You,” a tasty selection from his 1968 debut. Elvin Jones’ delightful take on “Reza,” from the same year, is followed by Spencer Barefield’s “Ghost Dancers,” which features the highly Elvin-ian fury of Sean Dobbins on drums. And so on.

Each piece here is ruled by its rhythm section, which isn’t surprising when you consider the players involved on the vintage stuff: Jones and Jimmy Garrison; Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers (on Joe Henderson’s “Mode for Joe”); Herbie Hancock, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins (on Donald Byrd’s “French Spice”). As for the new material, Barefield’s guitar, James Carter’s soprano sax and the late Marcus Belgrave’s flugelhorn all sound superb, but Hayden, Dobbins and pianist Mike Jellick dominate every track they appear on with their beautifully measured aggression. The album closes in amusing and poignant fashion, as 86-year-old Sheila Jordan sings the story of her musical life on “Sheila’s Blues.” Her first album was released 53 years ago-on Blue Note, of course.

Originally Published