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Published: 2003/04/26
by Ray Hogan

self-titled – The Detroit Experiment

Ropeadope Records 93138-2
The more I hear about musical regionalism being dead, the more I come across
evidence to the contrary. Ropeadope Records continues its great concept that
began with The Philadelphia Experiment by focusing on the Motor City for the
second chapter. The idea behind these undertakings is simple but inspired:
Find a city that has a historical sound attached to it and invite a
cross-generational spread of musically representative hometown heroes to
some time in the studio to see what they come up with.
Detroit will likely forever be best remembered for the Motown sound but you
won’t find a ton of that influence among this conglomerate. Instead, the
participants are pretty evenly divided between jazz (of all varieties) and
modern day studio alchemists. Producer Carl Craig serves as ringleader and
The Detroit Experiment is basically two projects in one. The first
half of
the disc is dominated by jazz beacons such as trumpeter Marcus Belgrave,
violinist Regina Carter and saxophonist Bennie Maupin (of the Headhunters
and surprisingly little else).
It is during the funk-jazz portion of the disc where the most magic takes
The best intermingling among the camps occurs here as does the most soaring
performances and strongest material. Belgrave, a trumpeter whose association
with Jazz at Lincoln Center is finally affording him his proper due, takes
all of about five seconds to establish himself as the group’s most valuable
player on his own opening "Space Odyssey" (where he has the stealth of snake
in slithering around the swirling rhythms) and Donald Byrd’s ensuing "Think
Twice" (as a modern dance track) and "Revelation," on which his playing
takes on the regality of Miles Davis. "Revelation" is a tune that originally
appears to be little more than smooth jazz schmaltz before session guitarist
Percy Hughes turns some brilliant corners to bring the cut to life. The
always excellent Carter and pianist Geri Allen are somber and sublime as
duet partners on "There is God," an appropriate respite before the disc
heads in a decidedly more electronic and house-inspired direction.
The second half of "The Detroit Experiment" is a letdown if only because its
stacked against the ingenuity of the previous tracks. The grooves remain
ultra-thick and largely creative but many of the remaining tunes lack the
personality and individuality that the organic instruments brought to the
previous tracks. A few moments still shine brightly though. Stevie Wonder’s
"Too High" is remade as a work of ambient beauty. Flutist Allan Barnes
provides feather-light serenity to the majestic "Midnight at the 20 Grand."
These Motor City musicians may have overlooked the obvious Motown sound of
their home, but what they brought to the fore is more ambitious and just as
pleasing. Hopefully, the folks at Ropeadope have New Orleans, D.C. and a few
other cities in mind.

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