Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Sounds: Motor City Horns bring the music back home

While there is indeed a powerful, punchy, brassy, and sassy element to this heavy horn-infused disc, listeners might be pleasantly surprised by the level of musical craftsmanship that has gone into it.

You're just as apt to hear a fabulous blues guitar solo from Detroit legend Johnnie Bassett on a song such as "Cadillac Blues" as you are a trumpet or a trombone. That's what makes this project - the debut album of Detroit's Motor City Horns - so appealing. The Horns are strong yet sophisticated, knowing when to take center stage and when to step back, doing the music justice by not trying to out-muscle it.

Nearly two years in the making, the album features more than 48 musicians from the Detroit area. It effortlessly floats from funk to fusion, bouncing between rock, jazz, hip-hop, and rhythm and blues.

The Horns do a fine job of stepping out into the limelight after spending years performing with and being recorded on more than 20 albums with the likes of Bob Seger, the Verve Pipe, the Brothers Groove, Johnnie Bassett, Clarence Clemons, Alexander Zonjic, a mix of Latin and Gospel groups, and others.

The 66-minute disc features 11 original songs and four covers. Think of it as a cross-cutting sampler of Detroit's musical culture, with a dozen special guest vocalists, including Brian Vander Ark of the Verve Pipe on vocals for the title track.


It's difficult to imagine a more ambitious project than paying homage to the great Les Paul by recording a number of standards in his classy style.

Lots of things could go wrong, ranging from coming across as derivative and cliched to simply not measuring up. Veteran guitarist Robillard and vocalist Crownover pull it off on "Tiki Lounge" by focusing on more obscure songs from the Paul repertoire and keeping everything fun.

Robillard rightly stays deep in the pocket of blues, serving up tasteful tributes to Paul - the inventor of the Gibson guitar that carried his name - without showing off or taking any shortcuts. There's a vintage vibe throughout "Tiki Lounge" that delivers a lush, warm sound.

Crownover is a beautiful singer whose voice glides across the melodies like a lovely swan moving gracefully through a calm pond. Her take on the Patsy Cline standard "Crazy" is sublime, and she also sifts through the Mae West and Mary Ford catalog to excellent effect.

"Tiki Lounge" is a bit of a modern relic, a tribute to an age in music when South American rhythms, the blues, jazz, and show tunes were all fodder for a virtuoso like Les Paul. That it works so well is a tribute to Robillard and Crownover.


Why this guy isn't a household name is beyond me. Steven Schoenberg gives you everything you ask for in a solo, improvisational jazz piano album - music with passion, fury, creativity, imagination, and heart.

Recorded mostly at Smith College's Sweeney Concert Hall in Northampton, Mass., Schoenberg plays the fourth song, "In the Darkness," with the lights off, and does a four-handed improvisation on the seventh song, "Father and Son," with his son, composer Adam Schoenberg, at the keyboard with him.

Steven Schoenberg has a lush, wonderful musical vision that's hard to walk away from. He creates a multilayered, mind-bending sound. He closes out with his take on two Great American Songbook classics, "A Time for Peace" and "An American Encore."

- T.H.

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