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Audio CD, CD, October 25, 2011
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On Unsung Heroes Grammy Award© winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch pays tribute to a diverse group of jazz trumpeters, active from the 1940s through the present day, who have produced amazing music as players and composers despite flying below the radar. These great, creative trumpeters honored on Unsung Heroes, through their compositions (in some cases first recordings) and original works, range from masters no longer with us (Tommy Turrentine, Howard McGhee, Joe Gordon, Idrees Sulieman) to those very much alive, well, and swinging (Charles Tolliver, Claudio Roditi). Other trumpet masters represented in this project include Louis Smith and an early influence on Lynch’s own work, Kamau Adilifu (Charles Sullivan). “The multiple subjects of this collection of unpretentious, straight-ahead jazz music are artists without whom the jazz trumpet tradition would be very much impoverished,” says Brian Lynch, “yet who have seemed to fly under the radar of even enthusiastic followers of the music. They are also players and composers who have touched my soul and influenced me in both areas. Their notoriety ranges from those generally recognized by the cognoscenti to others almost completely unknown except to a few specialists, but they all have one thing in common: their art has been underappreciated.” Musicians: Brian Lynch - trumpet, flugelhorn; Vincent Herring - alto sax; Alex Hoffman - tenor sax; Rob Schneiderman - piano; David Wong - bass; Pete Van Nostrand - drums; Little Johnny Rivero - congas (1-3, 1-6, 3-5)
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On this disc, which is a natural companion to his 2000 disc Tribute to the Trumpet Masters, Mr. Lynch pays homage to the works of some of jazz's finest and undeservedly obscure trumpet players; namely Joe Gordon, Claudio Roditi, Tommy Turrentine, Louis Smith, Idrees Sulieman, Charles Tolliver and Kamal Adilifu (aka Charles Sullivan). Some of the tributes take the form of performing these artists' compositions. In other cases, Lynch plays a tune he penned in honor of the artist. In all instances, Lynch and his tight group, which includes Vincent Herring and Alex Hoffman on saxes and Rob Schneiderman on piano, are more than up to the task. They do each of the honorees proud.
Although there is not a bad track on the album, the standouts are Gordon's "Terra Firma Irma", which grooves on Pete Van Nostrand's killer backbeat along with the fine solos from all three horn players; Turrentine's "Big Red" and Sulieman's "Saturday Afternoon at Four", both part of a treasure trove of unrecorded compositions that were left as part of Turrentine and Sulieman's estates and that were made available to Lynch for these sessions; the hard bop of Tolliver's "Houshold of Saud" (again, I was knocked out by Van Nostrand's drumming)and Lynch's "RoditiSamba", a tribute to the Brazilian master.
In short, 'Unsung Heroes' is Brian Lynch's finest album as a leader in his long career. The muscianship is first rate, the compositions are never less than interesting and the backstory of the entire project is a compelling history lesson for jazz trumpet fans who want to dig deeper in the bin than Miles, Diz and Satchmo. The best news is that there is more where this came from: this is only Volume 1 of this project; volumes 2 and 3 are currently available online as downloads.
The inevitable challenge of a necessarily selective group of unsung heros (Rouse, a pyrotechnical tenor player with an inimitable sound, even had an album by that title) is trying to please everybody. Jack Sheldon I would regard as one of the all-time greats, if only for his work with the Curtis Counce Group, right after the amazingly quick and responsive Harold Land (who was on every LP with Max and Clifford except one, when Rollins replaced him) joined the group. As for Sheldon, though much of his later work was somewhat lightweight (diluted by his commercial Hollywood studio work, his chumming with Merv Griffin, and his own television series as well as his attraction to comedy schtick), the extracurricular stuff (how else can a genuine jazz artist make a decent living in this land of ours?) should not detract from his singular artistry--as warm and personal, intimate and identifiable a sound as I've ever heard on the horn, yet in his later years he could be a dynamic player in front of a roaring big band. The other gifted player who comes immediately to mind is Bill Hardman, whom Blakey called on in three different decades (unfortunately, not during the years when the Messengers recorded for Blue Note). But he's still available on many other labels for which Art recorded (including the Monk session on Atlantic). He loved trumpet duels, and he could never resist going after high-profile players who were unfamiliar with him. (Almost invariably, they later regretted inviting him on the bandstand--especially after the spanking they received.)
Hardman was as fast and crisp as they come, so much so that, on way-up-tempo tunes, Art would stop the whole ensemble and let Bill play unaccompanied for several choruses. With his somewhat slight, diminutive build and unassuming posture, he was the most memorable giant-slayer I've ever seen and heard. McGhee, one of the trumpeters recognized by Brian, was brilliant in the '40s and '50s and, like so many players (Hawk, Mobley, Maggie himself), a shadow of his former self by the time a younger generation got a chance to hear him in person.
Now it's time for a tenor or alto player to do the same for a few unsung greats (Tina Brooks, Harold Vick, Ernie Henry, Junior Cook, even Monk's favorite frontline player, Charlie Rouse, and Oliver Nelson's majestic alto or tenor all spring to mind as primary candidates). Then there's David Schnitter who, during a Carnegie Hall Newport Jazz concert shared jointly by the Jazz Messengers and Silver Quintet, set the famous concert shrine on fire, and moreover he was following Michael Brecker, who had preceded him on stage in the Silver group (Schnitter was the example of a wonderful musician who was done no favors by the arrival of the Marsalises in the early '80s). Unfortunately, even many close followers of the music are so blinded by the brilliance of Coltrane they refuse to listen to anyone else (had they seen him empty houses (on one occasion, all of Chicago's Soldier's Field!), during his last couple of years--after McCoy and Elvin had left the group--they might recognize that, as seminal a genius as Coltrane was, he wasn't perfect). And, if only for one of the best albums ever made ("Glass Bead Games"), Clifford Jordan would certainly have to be near the top of any list of underrated tenor players.
It's pretty well known by now that an eminent jazz critic once wrote: "Kenny Dorham's name is synonymous with 'underrated'." As special as Dorham was, that statement is wrong by a long shot. The critic (was it Giddins or Morgenstern?) simply exposed his ignorance of some of these other great but overlooked players.