On Monday, November 30, VMP will be releasing our eighth edition of VMP Anthology, our immersive box set series that takes you on journeys through the catalogs of some of music’s most interesting bands and labels. Available at 10 a.m. MT on Cyber Monday, the eighth edition of VMP Anthology is The Story of Tribe Records, a seven-album, seven-LP collection of albums released by the Detroit spiritual jazz collective. These albums sound as good – or better – than the sought after and rare original LP issues. Some were remixed from the original tapes, under the supervision of Tribe’s co-founders Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison, and some were lacquered directly from the original master tapes in an all-analog transfer by Bernie Grundman. While the Tribe label has remained one of the brightest lights of America’s 1970s jazz underground, the label has never been feted with a definitive set of reissues, and has thus remained obscure. That changes now. This is your chance to indulge in the music and story of one of the most meaningful, local movements of the 20th Century Black American experience, one that expanded outwards towards the cosmos. In the words of the collective themselves, “Music is the healing force of the universe.” Learn more here about the featured titles, as well as additional details around our Cyber Monday drop. You’ll be able to buy the box set here.
Tribe Records was an American jazz record label, production company, and publishing house founded in Detroit, Michigan in the early ’70s by trombonist Phil Ranelin and reed player Wendell Harrison. It was born out of the desire to maintain a strong Black artist community after the closure of Motown's Detroit offices in 1972. The collective of musicians also included Marcus Belgrave, Harold McKinney, Ron Brooks, Charles Moore, and Doug Hammond. In addition to the label, the collective led youth and community programs, and published a Black awareness magazine aimed at a "young, radical-minded black audience." While the collective disbanded after five years it served as an important bastion for community and arts in Detroit and shaped free and soul jazz sounds.
We start The Story of Tribe Records with Message From The Tribe, arguably the most well-known album in the Tribe Records canon, a collaborative album from the label’s two founders that splits the difference between soul, spiritual and free jazz. It swings, it makes you think, and it’ll hit you square in the solar plexus.
Harrison’s solo work veered toward polyrhythmic expanses, and this album, with its advanced compositions and radical poetry, is part of why Tribe became so revered even after they disbanded. There weren’t many jazz artists who could make spiritual jazz that also pushed the music into weird places, but Harrison could.
Ranelin’s first lead album in the box is like some cross between John Coltrane and Sun Ra, a mixing of matters of the heart, and shooting from the hip. Tribe Records made jazz that confronted you with the problems of the day, and those problems are still as relevant today as they were nearly 50 years ago, when this album was made.
The second Phil Ranelin album in the Tribe Anthology is much funkier than his first, as the breakbeats that Ranelin’s drummer plays on here have taken on a second life of their own. But Ranelin plays sad, mournful lines, and it’s another album that feels resonant to the times.
The funkiest album in this box in a landslide, McKinney was an elder statesman of Detroit jazz by the time the Tribe guys came a-calling, but no matter, his debut LP came out on the label anyway, and it’s a vocal, funky trip. It shows the range the label had in its limited release catalog.
A righteous and soulful team-up of vocalist Hammond and keyboardist/organist Durrah, this is a nakedly beautiful set, an album that captures the communal vibe of Tribe Records, a quiet masterpiece.
We close our box set of Tribe Records with an album that has never appeared in any form before; it’s an album that was completed in 1975 and never released. The title track is an underground hit: original 7-inches of the two-sided, buoyant jam go for upward of $500. The rest of the album is heavier on the more experimental side of Harrison’s discography; some of the tracks here would appear on albums later in his oeuvre.
VMP Anthology: The Story Of Tribe Records will be available on November 30. Domestic current VMP members who are previous purchasers of VMP Anthology will pay $249, with no discount code needed, and International folks will pay $289. Domestic non-members who are previous purchasers of a VMP Anthology will receive a code to pay that same price. First-time Anthology purchasers who are not members will pay $299/$339. Everyone who purchases in the first 24 hours will receive a limited edition silkscreen show poster with their purchase.