The Jazz.com Blog
June 07, 2009 · 1 comment
What happens when you fill up the stage with trumpeters, and put lots more in the audience? Michael J. West, a regular contributor to this column, found out on a recent visit to Harrisburg, where the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz partnered with the International Trumpet Guild to present some hot young talents, including several artists recently featured in Downbeat's article on "25 Trumpet Players for the Future." T.G.
This year, the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz (CPFJ) festival was held in conjunction with the International Trumpet Guild’s 2009 conference—at and around the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg’s vibrant but slightly quaint downtown. Not surprisingly, the events were mostly centered around trumpets. But if the instruments lacked variety, there was still no lack of eclecticism: Multiple jazz trumpeters meant an exposition of just how many different ways the trumpet can be played… and the end result was fantastic.
The festival lasted four days, but the second day was the zenith, beginning with the ITG’s “Young Guns” concert in the hotel ballroom. Primarily a showcase for the winner of 2009’s ITG Trumpet Competition, it also put him on the same bill with a sotto voce rhythm section and three of jazz’s hottest trumpeters under 35: Philip Dizack, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Jeremy Pelt.
Trumpeter (artwork by Suzanne Cerny)
After a one-song prelude by Argentinian horn player Roberto “Fats” Fernandez (a lyrical, classically cadenced tune that sounded like “Prelude to a Kiss”), the contest winner took the stage. Nick Frenay just finished high school in Syracuse, but he’s already an adventurous player. Dark and subtle—reminiscent of a flugelhorn, in fact—his style thoroughly subverted Clare Fischer’s “Pensativa,” turning conventional phrases and harmonic devices inside out (though it helped that pianist Kirk Reese relied entirely on stock phrasing). Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” intensified the approach, with a slightly brighter tone and tautness on the changes, and more imaginative work from Reese.
If anything, Frenay was a bit too determined to be different; if playing a solo construction that would typically be capped by a high note, for example, he would go for the low note instead. But that’s to be expected from an 18-year-old musician. This kid is one to watch.
Philip Dizack, 24 (third-place winner at ITG 2004), naturally had a bit more maturity in his playing. On his lovely interpretation of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” Dizack took the Miles Davis tack: dry, carefully spaced, and with minimal vibrato. But “Invitation” sounded nothing like Miles. Dizack imbued it with dynamic energy and a smoky sweetness like red wine. He took the changes fast and in wide veers, pausing only for a uniquely textured drum solo from Jeff Stabley. His ideas were plentiful—and plenty interesting.
Ambrose Akinmusire was something else again. His “What’s New” was soft-voiced, carefully articulated, and unfalteringly beautiful, the sound of a lover whispering in the dark. It was augmented by a tidal solo from Reese (who quoted “The Impossible Dream”) and bassist Steve Meashey, with Akinmusire punctuating the latter; this writer was moved nearly to tears. Almost as good was “It Could Happen to You,” marred only by a flat blat from Akinmusire at the beginning. He was also rather more strident, with faster runs and leaping high notes, but never sacrificing the prettiness of his tone.
Then, at last, came the power player—Jeremy Pelt. Opening with “Woody ‘N You,” he swung so fiendishly that he barely needed the rhythm section; bebop line after brilliant bebop line poured out of his horn with a cocky but thoroughly deserved swagger. Then, after a quick Dizzy Gillespie redux (not on the horn: he announced he was introducing the band, then shook their hands), Pelt launched Jimmy Rowles’ “502 Blues” on flugelhorn. After his blazing force on “Woody ‘N You,” he startled with his easy transition to thoughtful subtlety. But of course, the chops came in too, with quick-fingered legato statements that only reinforced the glumness of the blues.
But the big finish was yet to come: Emcee Terrell Stafford invited all five (including Fernandez) trumpeters to take the stage for one piece. . . and some disarray. “They’re gonna play rhythm changes,” he announced with amusement. “So we’ll start there, and whatever tune comes out, comes out.” What came out was “The Theme,” riffy and staccato—a bop march. Pelt soloed first, carefree and ambling on his flugelhorn, with just a hint of blues feeling; Fernandez followed, deliberately paced as if in time to Alvin Ailey choreography. Akinmusire again changed the course: he was composed, restrained, pensive, and gorgeous. Frenay picked up on that moody vibe, with a hazy, enigmatic solo that remained insistently different. The closer, Dizack, brought the polished virtuosity back, almost casually pulling every trick in the book in one brief solo, then back to the head.
“Young Guns” was hardly the headline event of the day, let alone the festival; Pelt and Nicholas Payton each played concerts with their own bands later in the evening. But this was easily the most absorbing and insightful performance, a glimpse at the coming generation of trumpet players in all its synergy and diversity. Most festivals are about the state of the music as it is; this one offered a preview, however short, of where jazz is going.
This blog entry posted by Michael J. West