Saxophonist Wendell Harrison has lived by a standard philosophy for his 50-plus-year career: One must have complete self-autonomy. Both his music and business dealings reflect this. Besides being a legend on the Detroit jazz scene and mentoring up-and-coming musicians through his nonprofit organization Rebirth Inc., he co-founded the Tribe Records label in the 1970s, which produced a magazine and many classic albums.
Harrison is continuing Tribe’s legacy—this time around with a group of rising jazz musicians from the Motor City such as drummer Louis M. Jones III, trumpeter Trunino Lowe, and guitarist Jacob Schwantz—on his new recording Get Up Off Your Knees.
There’s a lot to digest here because the original compositions encompass R&B, soul, spoken word, and “world” music, all seen through the lens of jazz. Harrison tends to weave elements of African music into many of his compositions. On “Siera” and “Samoulén Khalé Yi,” both written by vocalist and bassist Pathe Jassi, he pays tribute to Guinea-Bissau and Senegalese culture. “Educators” also has African nuances in its hardcore drumming and Harrison’s sublime blowing on bass clarinet and clarinet.
Any discriminating jazz listener will be consumed by Get Up Off Your Knees, but it seems Harrison’s primary purpose for making this album is to encourage the current generation to put education first and build social awareness. On the title track, vocalist Miche Braden pushes the self-determination angle, which is again highlighted on “Revolution,” a reimagined take on Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” delivered with an adherence to contemporary events by the poet Rev. Mbiyu Chui.