Linda Yohn’s Reflections on Vincent York’s BLENDING FORCES

Vincent York's BLENDING FORCES: A Memorable Mix By Linda Yohn

Vincent York's Blending Forces
"... Blending Forces illustrates this attitude of blending ideas, technique and passion into one cohesive whole that the listener can savor endlessly."
Linda Yohn
Linda Yohn
Jazz scholar, broadcaster & advocate

Here is a PRELUDE to VINCENT YORK’s ALBUM RELEASE on BANDCAMP: Our own, Linda Yohn’s notes on the recording and its musical and historical significance.


Vincent York BLENDING FORCES: A Memorable Mix

As the Jazzistry team considered what to do during Black History Month yet cope with the pandemic, live events were out of the question.  But revisiting Vincent’s recordings in an historic context would be appropriate for Black History Month.  Thus, I chose to re-listen and re-discover Vincent York’s 1989 session Blending Forces. We will also review Vincent’s Focusing The Vision in the near future.

Four of the seven musicians who blended their considerable individual forces into a meaningful septet have since transitioned:  trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, pianist Gary Schunk, drummer Lawrence Williams and percussionist Sundiata Keita.  They represented the top Detroit and Ann Arbor jazz talent at the time and still do.  The music is timeless:  richly deserving re-examination.  Two of the Blending Forces musicians continue to swing strong as performers, composers, educators and mentors: leader, saxophonist/flutist Vincent York and bassist Marion Hayden.  Neither has lost any of their 1989 youthful verve.

Notes from jazz scholar Michael G. Nastos give you a firm grasp of Vincent’s jazz saga from Vero Beach, Florida to Ann Arbor.  If you invest in a CD, you’ll read about a formative era in Detroit jazz.  Even if you invest in a digital copy, you’ll have music for endless pleasure and inspiration.  Case in point – the song No.3, penned by Vincent’s great friend, drummer/composer Lawrence Williams.  Vincent says there isn’t a day that he doesn’t recall Lawrence with affection, admiration and fascination.  Lawrence’s musical mind was unique and all encompassing.  The ensemble knew when to come together in passionate choruses and when to grant space for genius-level individual expression over Williams’ confounding time signatures and chord structure.  Following No.3 is a piece by another of Vincent’s dear friends: Eugene Thorne.  When Thorne’s ballad To Love And To Care starts up, it sounds familiar, yet as it develops you hear this is no knock-off.  It is a tender, sensual tune showcasing Vincent’s ability to play pretty.

Vincent’s original song Hymn 427, continues the contemplative mood.  This spiritual piece remains in York’s repertoire to this day.  If you’ve heard Vincent play it in concert, you would do well to invest in owning the original.  The energy picks back up for Dolphy’s Dance written by the late, great pianist/composer Geri Allen.  My hunch is that Marcus Belgrave suggested the piece as Ms. Allen studied with Marcus for years.  Belgrave is a propulsive force of nature especially on Dolphy’s Dance along with pianist Gary Schunk who had the chops to handle the intricacies of a Geri Allen opus.  The energy level continues high as Blending Forces features another Latin-inspired selection from Eugene Thorne, Caribbean Fantasy and concludes with the Marcus Belgrave original Akua Ewie, a dedication to Marcus’ first daughter.  The tune is tough to negotiate with swirling rhythms and challenging chord changes, but this band aces it, anchored by Belgrave’s brilliant trumpet and Vincent’s lilting flute. 

If I’ve learned anything in my 2 years serving on the Vincent York’s Jazzistry board, it is that Vincent treasures his relationships with musicians be they students, colleagues or bandmates.  Blending Forces illustrates this attitude of blending ideas, technique and passion into one cohesive whole that the listener can savor endlessly.