Jazz is Dead is one of the best things to come out of the 2020s so far. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad launched the imprint right as the pandemic set in, and all they’ve done since then is give us fresh music from living jazz legends like Roy Ayers, Azymuth, and Brian Jackson, just to name a few. For their sixteenth release, we get a couple of Detroit legends, Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison.

Phil Ranelin is a trombonist who first got his big break playing on Motown records, but it was in 1971 that he teamed up with saxophonist Wendell Harrison to form Tribe Records, which gave them the freedom to record some really experimental jazz in the next decade. Now that they are back in the studio to work with Jazz is Dead, they are picking things up like it’s still the mid-70s. They keep the ensemble tight, with just Younge on keyboards and guitar, Ali Shaheed Muhammad on bass, and Greg Paul on drums. Despite this, the sound on this album is expansive, with Ranelin and Harrison leading us on this audio journey that is every bit as soulful as it is experimental. And that’s what made these two special when they set off on their jazz journey tighter – they knew how to challenge listeners on an intellectual level while rewarding the soul with music that still resonated in your body and felt good to listen to. You can hear that passion coming through their horns over the course of seven songs, as they touch on the spiritual and the political with songs like “Genesis” and “Fire in Detroit.” It’s an album like this that gets right to the heart of why Jazz is Dead exists.

Jazz is Dead was started as a place where older jazz musicians could go to get back in the studio and record new music. Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison are perfect examples as to why this is an important mission. Together, with this album, they’ve made some great jazz that stands alongside anything in their catalogues.