Personnel: Gerald Cleaver (drums); Andrew Bishop (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); J.D. Allen (saxophone); Jeremy Pelt (trumpet, flugelhorn); Ben Waltzer (piano).
Recording information: 12/18/2006.
Gerald Cleaver's Detroit is typified by the hard bop of the '50s that brought young players from the Motor City to New York City, and the jazz world at large. But Gerald Cleaver's Detroit, as defined by the breadth and depth of his compositional skills (he wrote all of this material) is also identified by the creative improvisers who roamed the city in the '80s, brimming with hope and new ideas stemming from a former economically and culturally rich urban area that has since decayed, struggling with infrastructure and image problems. This is not Yusef Lateef's Detroit of the 1960s, rarefied, funky, riot-torn, and divided. Instead, this is the current modern strain of post-bop informed by Cleaver's drumming heroes who have recently passed away -- Roy Brooks, George Goldsmith, Richard "Pistol" Allen, and Lawrence Williams. Southeastern Michigan saxophonist Andrew Bishop and former Michiganians pianist Ben Waltzer and tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen are at the core of Cleaver's Detroit, with New Yorkers Chris Lightcap on bass and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet very much in the fold. This is a fine ensemble, able to express what the drummer's concept of what Detroit can be in positive terms. Bishop's bass clarinet is front and center in solo and ensemble form for the 10/8 rhythm of "The Silly One," a quirky, deep, probing tune that recalls Geri Allen's Open on All Sides in the Middle band recording. On the low-end horn, Bishop is out first on the refreshing "Carla's Day" which shifts from dark to light refrains in waltz and hard bop modes. A piece in beats of seven per measure, "Detroit" is the witty, bright inference of the major city rising to new dimensions. It sports a clean melody line reminiscent of Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter, or Woody Shaw, and has the quality of a standard-to-be. In a similar Blue Note fashion is the solid hard bopper "Pilgrim's Progress," and Pelt leading the shuffle shorty "Praise the Lord." There are several pensive free discourses as on the spacious free ballad "Henry," and the airy and unforced rhythm section number "6350," while "Far East (Side)" starts moody and introspective, then jumps up in intensity, fading out. Waltzer's relaxed stride style with Bishop's soprano sax provides a twist on "Grateful," and a scattered free bop workout with shout choruses drives the hard bop influenced "Dorham." The horns overall work very well together, and would be an in-concert delight, while the ever vigilant Cleaver is making great headway with his personal, unpredictable, ruminating, soul laden, implied and direct rhythmic constructs. This is close to a great album, and another triumph in the still young career of Cleaver's ever expanding discography, as a sideman for sure, but now as a legitimate bandleader and particularly a composer. ~ Michael G. Nastos