If you have not yet experienced Planet D Nonet, your groove tank is missing out on some serious fuel.
They’re Detroit’s own down and dirty little big band, known nationally for curating some of the best in early jazz traditions and Black-American musical influences from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. More “hot” than “sweet,” according to PD9 cofounder and bandleader RJ Spangler, who started the nine-piece ensemble with longtime musical partner James O’Donnell in 2007.
PD9 is a pared down version of the traditional big bands of the 1930s, and they frequently feature guest vocalists, adding to the versatility of the band’s show. The number of musicians in the lineup is reminiscent of the earliest big bands, when swing was still evolving into the sound that defined jazz music’s most popular era.
“The band retains the agility of a small group,” says Spangler, “but with the harmonic palette of a larger one.”
The band’s repertoire is unmatched, in one set paying tribute to the music of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, and in another the proto-R&B sounds of Detroit artists such as Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams and King Porter. On some nights an audience might be treated to an entire evening devoted to the Afro-futuristic rhythms of Sun Ra—to whom the name Planet D Nonet is a deferential nod, if not a wink.
Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press calls Planet D Nonet “one of Detroit’s great party bands,” with a “sweeping field of vision that ranges from Swing Era classics to connoisseur works by Duke Ellington, mind-expanding pieces by the visionary Sun Ra and some down-and-dirty joint R&B.”
The group has been nominated and awarded multiple honors over the past decade, including several Detroit Music Awards. Most recently, they were named DMA’s 2016 Outstanding Traditional Jazz Artist/Group, and not surprisingly that was not the first time they received that award.
PD9’s latest release, A Salute to Strayhorn, features musical selections associated with the composer, lyricist, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn, best known for his celebrated musical collaborations with Duke Ellington.
The cuts are a mix of studio and live recordings, including a performance of “Such Sweet Thunder” captured at Detroit’s NPR station WDET. Vocalist Camille Price brings sultry and seductive stylings to a few cuts including “Imagine My Frustration” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” But as in PD9’s club performances, it’s when trumpeter James O’Donnell comes out from behind his instrument that listeners sway a little more languidly, as he glides into the crowd favorite “Satin Doll.”
With all the hours that PD9 have put in pounding
the musical pavement, it’s hard to imagine that any avowed Ellington/Strayhorn
fan hasn’t yet experienced them, whether live or recorded. Luckily, the Fall 2016
release provides the perfect opportunity to discover this group known for
putting body, soul and spirit into every bit of music they touch.