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Local Horn Players Make Mark As A Section

of the Oakland Press

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It’s been nearly a decade since Mark Byerly, Bob Jensen, Keith Kaminski and John Rutherford — all Detroit area horn players — were brought together by Ann Arbor musician Charlie Dentel to record an album with him.

It was a project that got the four thinking, and led to the formation of the Motor City Horns and, recently, the release of the group’s first album, “Local Boys.”

“Right after we worked with Charlie, we started talking about forming a horn section and marketing ourselves to work on projects,” says trombonist Rutherford, who executive produced the “Local Boys” project and serves as the Horns’ managing partner. “I hesitate to make comparisons to (Motown house band) the Funk Brothers, but in essence we’re set up the same way — a horn section versatile enough to back up any artist, any style of music.

“We felt like there were a lot of things we might be able to do together.”

That’s proven to be an understatement during the past nine-plus years. The Horns’ most high-profile gig was touring with Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band during 2006-07, but the quartet has a loaded résumé that includes shows with Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and his Temple of Soul band as well as Detroit blues legend Johnny Bassett, the Verve Pipe, Alexander Zonjic, electronic artist Carl Craig, local singers Liz Larin and Karen Newman, Reed & Dickinson (with the Silver Bullet Band’s Alto Reed) and the Lansing group Root Doctor.

It’s also featured on a pair of tracks from Seger’s 2009 collection, “Early Seger, Vol. 1.”

But for Rutherford and company, “Local Boys,” which features nearly four dozen musicians from the Detroit area, has been the real priority, a two-year labor of love that they feel not only stands on its own, but has the potential to raise the profile of their collective enterprise.

“You could call ‘Local Boys’ a calling card — taking good songs and showing what we do and what the horns can do to take a good song and make it better,” Rutherford, 34, explains. “We hope it falls into the hands of someone who’s looking for a horn section and hears what the horns could add, sonically, as sidemen.

“Our hope is to get some big projects happening.”

Each of the Horns brings formidable individual credits to the group. The classically trained Rutherford, who lives in Detroit, has played and recorded with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma, founded the Motor City Brass Quintet, is a member of the Spectrum Brass Quintet and the Scott Gwinell Jazz Orchestra and has taught at Oakland University and the University of Toledo.

Trumpeter Byerly, who produced “Local Boys” at his Longview Sound home studio in Rochester Hills, has worked with Justin Timberlake, the Verve Pipe and Dwele, co-founded the jazz group Bop Culture and also teaches in Toledo. Saxophonist Kaminski, who lives in Mount Clemens, is a regular call for advertising sessions and has played with Bassett, Bettye Lavette, Alberta Adams, the Four Tops and others, while Royal Oak resident Bob Jensen has credits ranging from Dizzy Gillespie and Mel Torme to Aretha Franklin, Yes, the Moody Blues and Don Henley.

The Seger hook-up, meanwhile, came from Rutherford’s relentless “reminding” the rocker’s camp about the Horns should Seger ever tour again — and the call finally came 10 days before Seger hit the road in 2006.

“It was a last-minute idea,” Seger recalls. “I was remembering when I saw Bruce Springsteen ... on the West Coast in Monterey (during the ’80s) and he had the horn section. I said, ‘God, this is cool!’ It was just so strong. I said, ‘Let’s just try it.’ ”

For Seger, the Horns were “like our turbocharger; when we really want to shift into triple digits, we get the horns out.”

For Rutherford and company, meanwhile, being on the road with Seger was “one of our goals. It came as a big surprise, too. To get a call a week before opening night in Grand Rapids just put all our skills to the test, and I think we came through.”

The quartet comes through, loud and clear, on “Local Boys,” too. But it took some doing and was, Byerly acknowledges, a bit of a three-ring circus.

“Just logistically getting the scheduling together and trying to schedule the musicians and the bands — that was a pretty time-consuming effort,” the trumpeter says. “That’s why it took almost two years to do it.

“But, you know, we had the luxury of time. There was no deadline. We had my studio to work in. We were able to take our time, get a little deeper into the music and be able to play with it a little bit more. I think you can hear that on the record.”

“Local Boys” features something of a Detroit who’s-who of local music luminaries. The Horns worked with well-known bands such as the Howling Diablos, the Brothers Groove, Hot Club of Detroit, Bump, RJ’s Rhythm Rockers and Byerly’s Bop Culture on his original, “Cross Section.” A dozen vocalists are part of the album, including Bassett, Larin and Adams, R&B stalwart Thornetta Davis, rapper Paradime from Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band and rockers Michael King, Brian Vander Ark of the Verve Pipe and Barbara Payton, who was a backup singer on the Seger tour.

“We wanted a nice mix, an eclectic mix,” Rutherford explains. “Some highlight the horns heavily; on others we take a more traditional role and complement the song. The only genre we didn’t get to, I think, was country. We just kind of ran out of room.”

Byerly says the Horns’ strategy on the 15 tracks was to “experiment” and find different ways to deploy their instruments. “There is a lot of conventional type of horn stuff on this,” he says, “but there’s a lot that’s not really mainstream horn section stuff, too.

“We tried to make it so (the Horns) blended more and more like an instrument itself ... sometimes like a keyboard type of sound or a guitar type of sound or something you wouldn’t expect, necessarily.”

That’s certainly the case, according to Howling Diablos saxophonist Johnny Evans, who appears on the song “If You Love Someone.”

“I thought the record was real interesting,” he says. “It’s a lot of different styles and it’s a horn section sound, which a lot of artists want but ... can’t tell you what they really want. So these guys provide the nuts and bolts of putting it down on a lot of tunes. It’s pretty impressive.”

Rutherford says the Horns hope to put together a concert soon featuring all or at least many of the musicians who played on “Local Boys.” He says there’s also “some discussion and interest” in doing a second album. “Along the way, as the (album) gained momentum and word got around, we were approached by a lot of other people and did not have the space on the CD to fit in anything more,” he notes. “There are a lot of other people we’ve worked with and friends we’ve made who would be nice to get with, too, so hopefully that will happen.”

But the Horns greatest desire is to hook up with another national act for touring or recording — or, preferably, both.

“We put this together to play together,” says Rutherford, who’s recently been on the road with a musical production of Walt Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.” “We just keep putting ourselves out there and hope someone will want to call us in to do our thing for them.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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