Whether or not they realize it, jazz players owe a serious nod to the many musicians through the years who have influenced and helped shape the branches on the musical tree. In the case of the trumpet tradition, I’m talking about not just the household name players like Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, etc. But the many others – active or deceased – who’ve been innovators in their own way. Brian Lynch understands this big time. In 2000, he released his Tribute to the Trumpet Masters project to honor Woody Shaw, Kenny Dorham, Thad Jones, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell, Charles Tolliver, Booker Little and Tom Harrell. Now he’s out with his 17th CD as a leader. Unsung Heroes is a multi-faceted project that digs into the music of hornmen who he feels have been influential as players and writers but underappreciated. So he’s put his own creative spotlight on Tommy Turrentine, Howard McGhee, Joe Gordon, Idrees Sulieman, Louis Smith and Kamal Adilifu (Charles Sullivan) and Claudio Roditi.
Vol. 1, released on CD, has nine such tribute tracks, including a Lynch original called “Unsung Blues” and another original called “RoditiSamba” that very much captures the flair and rhythmic lilt of the very-much-alive trumpeter who inspired it. Lynch and his band (pianist Rob Schneiderman, saxophonists Vincent Herring and Alex Hoffman, bassist David Wong, drummer Pete Van Nostrand and conguero Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero take the music of the aforementioned innovators and add their own contemporary stamp. It is a beautiful project. The music from two additional volumes (extra tunes and alternate takes) are available at Lynch’s website, along with video, play-along formats, sheet music, scores and more. Lynch has developed a great way to pay forward the influences that he absorbed. May he not be the last to do so.
Yellowjackets, Timeline (Mack Avenue)
Time flies when you’re having fun. In this case, 30 years of fun. Timeline is the 21st release by the Yellowjackets. The CD is a terrific synthesis of the qualities that has made this one of the finest true contemporary jazz/fusion bands of its generation. Their sound is contemporary, but the players shouldn’t be confused with a bunch of instrumental popsters. Their playing and credentials are as solid as any mainstream jazz band working today. This is a band that knows how to roar on occasion, but I savor the ballad moments because they are filled with subtleties. The music has beauty, bite, depth and emotion. Since Yellowjackets started out as the backing unit for blues guitarist Robben Ford in 1979 two years before their eponymous debut CD, it is only fitting that Ford makes a guest appearance here. He plays on ”Magnolia,” which was written by founding members Russell Ferrante (keyboards) and Jimmy Haslip (electric bass). My personal favorites are saxophonist Bob Mintzer’s “Why Is It,” drummer Will Kennedy’s “Rosemary” and Ferrante’s beautiful “I Do.”
Ezra Weiss, The Shirley Horn Suite (Roark)
This project from Portland-based pianist Ezra Weiss is a poignant reminder about the singular impact that the late Shirley Horn had on the fine art of blending jazz vocals and piano. It’s a heartfelt tribute, in which Weiss wrote a five-tune suite performed in the style that we most often associate with Horn – her sophisticated and light keyboard touch, her snail’s pace vocal phrasing. He’s done a great job at capturing her classic swinging style. Singer Shirley Nanette adds a complementary vocal appreciation, so canny that piano and voice often feel like they’re coming from one performer. They’ve honored the musical essence of Shirley. Weiss’s other collaborators here include bassist Corcoran Holt and Horn’s longtime drummer, Steve Williams. Weiss interspersed four Horn evergreens – “The Great City,” “I Loves You Porgy,” “Estate” and “Something Happens to Me” – with his tribute pieces. ” Listeners who never had the opportunity to hear Horn in concert may identify a bit with Weiss’s opener, “I Wish I’d Met You.” ”Blues for Shirley,” “May The Most You Wish For” and the aforementioned “The Great City” and “Estate” (both instrumentals) also rise to the top.