Indianapolis born trombonist Phil Ranelin, and Chester, PA born trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, have a number of things in common; they both studied their instruments with devotion and strong desire, they both moved to New York to stake out jazz careers, and they both left to move to Detroit where they not only worked in the Motown studios, but also have strong performance careers in clubs and have worked with the city’s youth to keep the spirit of the art alive and vibrant into succeeding generations.
Living A New Day finds the master brassman, and lifelong musician deserving wider recognition, in a supportive setting, with chops-a-plenty and musical harmonic maturity that easily makes this his best recording as a leader.
For example, his playing on “Blue Bossa” will quickly make you forget every single version of this tune you’ve ever heard, including those famous Blue Note Records recordings. Ranelin’s all too brief solo is full of lines and harmonic turns that can only be described as heartbreakingly touching and poignant. Through the use of his accumulated knowledge, which is so ingrained as a result of a lifelong love affair with jazz, the essence of the solo distills down to simply opening up his soul and exposing his core spirit and heart. While countless jazz students will certainly study this solo and rip it apart to find and utilize Ranelin’s musical roadmap language, they will miss the fact this solo isn’t about scales or altered arpeggios or even the sliding syncopated rhythmic background concept behind the metrics he employs; the solo is about heart and conveying emotion which Ranelin does in brilliantly.
Even the more open compositions, like “Metamorphosis,” are not ostensibly about Ranelin’s slight avant-garde, at times, approach to music making. Working within open structures the backing ensemble, but most especially keyboardist Dave Matthews and bassist Matt Montgomery, keep the ostinato nature of the harmonic progression outlined without forcing it upon the trombonist allowing Ranelin to freely move in and out. By sliding through degrees of turgidity Ranelin pushes forward in an unending quest to break free yet to do so within the context of the tune’s structures.
Working with a group of musicians from San Francisco whose names will not be familiar to most, the backing ensemble is tight, supportive and responsive to Ranelin’s every move. When Ranelin zigs they zig right along, and when he wants to go out they create organized background blueprints which give the trombonist maximum freedom yet all the time locked within the groove. An absolutely great recording from start to finish. - Thomas Erdmann