Detroiter Larry Nozero and a stellar group of locally lauded musicians offer one of the most exciting discs of the past year in this outstanding tribute to Eddie Russ. This stands, too, as one of the highlights of the saxophonist/flautist’s long and distinguished career and speaks both to the strength of the compositions as well as to the proficiency of the reed master and his exquisite band mates. Eddie Russ, who died in 1996, was a long time fixture on the Detroit jazz scene who also played piano briefly with Sonny Stitt. Nozero recounts their work together in a jazz aggregation of the 1970s known as Mixed Bag in the liner notes. It is only fitting that those musicians assembled for this tribute are among the most impressive on the local jazz landscape three decades later. Certainly Nozero stands out as an able leader and instrumentalist. His mastery of flute, alto flute and alto saxophone are on display and stunning in their performance.
The opening Brazilian flavored flute piece, "Never Could Live Without You" benefits from lush orchestration and Nozero’s flute and alto flute work. As brilliant an alto player as Nozero is, his work here on flute is equal to anyone playing on the international scene today. For "Zaius" that flute takes on an Eastern quality reminiscent at times of former fellow Detroiter Yusef Lateef. Don Swindell’s flugelhorn is especially captivating on this number. On "Blue Bungus Funk" pianist Cliff Monear reaches into his Ramsey Lewis bag, while Nozero and company inject the composition with a Quincy Jones-styled funky jazz rhythm. Again, the flute is adventurous and intelligently approached. The title piece is introspective and evocative, with particularly fine piano work. Nozero’s flute is juxtaposed well with Swindell’s trumpet in the most personal sounding of the performances.
The band blows a 60s-style cool groove on "All But Blind," perhaps the standout number on the disc. The frontline voicing of Nozero on alto sax and Swindell on trumpet casts a spell while Monear, bassist supreme Kurt Krahnke and busy drummer Ennix Buchannan lay a thick foundation underneath. Nozero brings out the alto sax for the Gigi Gryce-styled "Big Al," as well. He’s supremely melodic while sneaking peeks outside the lines. Swindell’s flugelhorn is well paced and tonally magnificent. On the closing "Look Out," the band reminds of the Jazz Crusaders, with all the players, especially Nozero, taking superb solo spots.
Larry Nozero, like Marcus Belgrave and other local masters, is a monster player who decided to stake his claim to Detroit jazz rather than follow a historic migration to New York or Los Angeles. He’s been delighting audiences in this storied jazz town for four decades and shows no sign of age. He’s simply a great player and this is a highly recommended disc.