Saxophone, bass and drum trios have a rich history. While many have tried this format, few have succeeded. Notable exceptions to the previous statement include jazz legends Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Lew Tabackin and Branford Marsalis. What each of these four artists brought to the format was a sound ideal which allowed them to forge their own quest for musical and individual expression within the open boundaries that leave others lost, dazed and confused.
The Global Jazz Trio adds their own search for musical identity within this format on Live in Detroit. The band includes saxophonist Mark Hershberger on alto, tenor and soprano along with electronic effects, Muruga Booker on drums and percussion and electric bassist Richard Smith. Hershberger’s background includes studies at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan. Muraga, known to many as Steven Booker, has performed with Weather Report, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. This trio evolved out of Hershberger’s earlier EmusicMasters group.
The aim of the band is to "blend musical sounds and rhythms from across the global barriers to create new global jazz music with ethnic fabric of sound and melody." While the group plays with great fire and enthusiasm, the final product is much more closely tied to late 1960s/early 1970s jazz-rock and the work of John Klemmer when he was with the Don Ellis Big Band.
The opening tune, a reworking of Sonny Rollins’ "St. Thomas" is an excellent example of this. Opening up with 70s electronic delay sonic effects, Hershberger’s saxophone dips and dives as he plays lines with and on top of himself. Like Klemmer, Hershberger thankfully keeps the mix at about 75 percent acoustic sound and only 25 percent electronics. Having a passion for the integrity of the line first helps Hershberger keep any self-indulgentness at bay. With rhythm accompaniment ablaze, Muruga and Smith join to create some fresh sounding 70s jazz fusion. The ending drum solo, including vocal encouragement, is truly astounding. Don Ellis needed three drummers to pull off the doubled-handed pyrotechnics Muruga’s fantastic abilities demonstrate. His ability to take a single rhythmic motive, impassion it with highly charged dynamite and work it through his entire kit reveals why he is worthy of all of the accolades he’s received throughout his great career.
As the live concert continues, it’s obvious this band is about moving forward. The openness of Coltrane’s "Impressions" becomes a jumping off point for free jazz inquiries and Zawinul’s "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" pushes the ensemble into a tongue in cheek, yet strangely reverent homage to post Cannonball Adderley concepts.
The group makes some strong statements, but you have to really be into the early experimental work of jazz fusionists and free jazz to dip fully from this musical barrel.