Trombonist Phil Ranelin was one of the Detroit jazz scene's unsung heroes, releasing several excellent, politicized albums that blended post-Coltrane avant-garde jazz, post-Bitches Brew psychedelia, hard bop, funk, and African rhythms.
Ranelin was born and raised in Indianapolis, and later moved to New York and then Detroit, where he started out as a session man for Motown artists like Stevie Wonder. In 1971, along with saxophonist Wendell Harrison, Ranelin co-founded a band, magazine, and record label conglomeration known as the Tribe, which used experimental jazz as a vehicle to raise African-American political consciousness. That year, Ranelin also issued his first album as a leader, Message from the Tribe. The Time Is Now! continued Ranelin's accessible avant leanings in 1974, but 1976's Vibes from the Tribe pushed more firmly into groovy jazz-funk territory. The Tribe organization folded in 1978, after which Ranelin played with Freddie Hubbard for several years. In 1986, Ranelin led a date for Rebirth titled Love Dream, and ten years later released the self-produced album A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind -- which featured his new Los Angeles-based sextet -- on Lifeforce. Though Ranelin's albums didn't get much exposure outside of his home base, they found their way onto the acid jazz/rare-groove collector's market, creating an underground buzz around Ranelin's music. In 2001, Tortoise drummer John McEntire remixed and remastered The Time Is Now! and Vibes from the Tribe, which were reissued by the Hefty label. The following year, a full-fledged electronic Remixes collection was released.
Ranelin stayed very busy in the first decade of the 21st century. He became a member of the large Los Angeles-based multi-generational and transcultural spiritual jazz unit Build an Ark, whose other constant members include Derf Reklaw, Dwight Trible, Carlos Niño, and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, along with a dozen others. That group released four albums between 2004 and 2010 on Kindred Spirits. Ranelin also found time to tour, join Carl Craig on his Detroit Experiment album, and record three sets of his own for Wide Hive during the same period: Inspiration (2004), Reminiscence: Live! (2006), and Living a New Day (2009). At the request of Craig, Ranelin reunited with the remaining living members of the Tribe (Wendell Harrison and Marcus Belgrave) for a one-off Detroit gig and the Craig-produced Rebirth long-player on Planet E, which was issued in 2009. Ranelin resumed his career as a leader with 2011's Perserverence on Wide Hive, in collaboration with bassist Henry "The Skipper" Franklin and legendary percussionist Big Black. ~ Steve Huey & Thom Jurek, Rovi