Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Marcus Belgrave - Gemini

Marcus Belgrave

Released 1974 on Tribe Records
Reviewed by dave clarkson, 10/03/2006ce

Space Odyssey
Glue Fingers Part 1
Glue Fingers Part 2
Gemini II
Marcia’s Opal
Odom’s Cave

Musicians : Ed Pickens (bass), Roy Brooks/ Billy Turner (drums, percussion), Harold McKinney (electric piano), Wendell Harrison (tenor sax, percussion), Phil Ranelin (trombone), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion), Lorenzo Brown (bongos). Produced by Marcus Belgrave and engineered by Bob Meloche.

After listening to this album, it is unbelievable to imagine that it was originally released in an edition of 1000 copies on the obscure ‘Gem Eye’ label in 1974 before being picked up by the ‘Tribe’ label and more recently, the ‘Soul Jazz’ label. Much like other jazz albums of the era such as those released by Lester Bowie, Steve Reid or Sun Ra, ‘Gemini’ has increased in stature with its subsequent reissues outselling the original print. Unlike many ‘space’ jazz albums of the time however, ‘Gemini’ offers sharp, soulful, spiritual and celestial tracks without deviating into cosmic slop and hippydom.

Marcus Belgrave first came to musical recognition at the age of eighteen when he took to the bandstand as part of the Ray Charles group. Four decades on and several generations later, Belgrave’s contributions and collaborations read like a compendium to the best of jazz recordings. As prolific as many of the musicians around at the time, Belgrave features heavily as a sideman on countless jazz discs and recorded sporadic sessions which resulted in work released on some of the more popular Motown discs, notably ‘Dancing In The Street’ and ‘My Girl’. Other musicians he has worked with include Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Tony Bennett and jive talking satanist, Sammy Davis Jr. Such is the versatility of Belgrave’s music, it’s no surprise to learn that he’s played avant garde, blues, traditional and is currently engaged in experimenting with electronic based music (in a similar way to Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden). He has worked in recent years with Prefuse 73 and Kirk Degiorgio and also features on Carl Craig’s ‘The Detroit Experiment’ album.

The sound of ‘Gemini’ is laced with groove heavy rubber funk and celestial ambience which is typical of many jazz records made between the late 60s and early 70s. The band is composed of many of the Detroit ‘Tribe’ label musicians and as a result and identification of, the playing is very loose, soulful and focused. The opening track ‘Space Odyssey’ begins with the beautiful Fender Rhodes sound from Harold McKinney, accompanied by Daryl Dybka playing mini Moog patterns. Those who are familiar with the Beta Band track ‘Inner Meet Me’ would recognise where the spaced out samples originate from by hearing ‘Space Odyssey’. The space sauce created gives way to a tight funk beat and a killer bass line. After a few bars of the bass and drums setting up the rhythm, the Moog enters proceedings with a theremin voice bouncing between the beats before the powerful brass ensemble enter the sound. The band sound superb hereon in full flow. The long flowing groove of ‘Space Odyssey’ is reverb heavy and often develops into free form sections reminiscent of the sound of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The brass solos are bright and the sound underneath is haunting.

‘Glue Fingers (Parts 1 and 2)’ features a heavy swing rhythm with the three brass players sounding like they’re on a scorching creative path. Harrison’s loop playing at the beginning of ‘Glue Fingers Part 2’ adds a special highlight to the sound. A lot of soloing and improvisation occurs in these tracks but they never lose the clarity and precision. Belgrave’s trumpet is again piled with reverb which results in it sounding above the mix of the other instruments. The combined effect of these two tracks is a very rewarding listening experience.

Both ‘Marcia’s Opal’ and ‘Odom’s Cave’ have a different feel to the previous tracks. They are more evocative and have a stillness about them similar to much of Herbie Hancock’s early 70s recordings. Both tracks feature the full ensemble but a looser and less knitted structure of sound is created. ‘Odom’s Cave’ is a magnificent track which closes the album.

Marcus Belgrave, Gemini, born June 12, 1936, in Chester, Pennsylvania is indeed a person born under the sign possessing a number of outstanding attributes such as great imaginative ability, a natural teacher and someone with the ability to communicate beautifully. The collective impact of Belgrave's mind, music and vision is felt across the spectrum of music for which he has become rightfully recognised in recent years.

There is a quote on the back of the original album sleeve from the late multi-reedist, Albert Ayler, which sums up this record…. "Music is the healing force of the universe."

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