Decent critics used to write of ‘crackling’ trumpet, and the opener here makes clear what they meant: a tone sufficiently big to produce excitingly abrasive edges when played fast with power This sort of thing presumably developed in later 1940s big bands, to meet the demands of phrasing melodically intricate bebop lines but also contributing to the fullness of a brass section sound which had to be warm and vibrant. Having played in such a section wasn’t a prerequisite of having such capabilities—wherever they came from they were jazz trumpet virtues, which the intelligent might well try to emulate.
Of course, if any of the intelligentsia had things to say which required something different, there was the prospect of doing something else. Miles Davis did something else, but with St. Louis roots. Jim Seeley is free of the neurosis characterised by various people worrying that they don’t sound like Miles.
It can be useful to read liner notes after hearing the disc rather than before—unless you need them to work out whether to buy. I thought ‘Lee Morgan’ before I saw the name in Seeley’s contribution to the insert notes. I see also that this trumpeter from Kansas has a steady job in the Lincoln Center’s Latin Jazz orchestra. Good for them.
On the bossa “Solita”, Seeley demonstrates that fluegelhorn isn’t an absolute necessity, when the side of things that does best can be so well accomplished on the standard horn. Use of electric piano there affords some contrast with the piano on the opener, for O’Farrill is one of those Latin pianists who sounds as if he wouldn’t play organ because there’s nothing in volume or swell or the rest which he doesn’t already achieve on acoustic piano. He’s pianist of the Lincoln Center Latin-Jazz ensemble, successor in other respects to his celebrated father, Chico (1921-2001). Throughout he demonstrates a flair for colour on the electronic instrument, which he plays on all but a couple of tracks.
All the tunes are Seeley’s, and on “Little General” he demonstrates some affinities with Clark Terry, on a Terry-ish theme with something of Terry’s happy phrasing. Terry might seem rather a one-off in jazz, as a relatively late arrival on record whose tone seemed altogether more thoroughly modern than his phrasing as an improviser on the cusp between swing and be-bop. It was just that he came from a St. Louis school which was always different. Seeley’s sound is darker, broader, and probably funkier, and there’s no pastiche—just a recommendation to keen Terry fans.
Seeley would certainly have been at home musically as an Art Blakey Messenger, and some of the qualities of hard bop and Horace Silver are duly celebrated here, though with a difference, On the one hand there’s not the rhythmic tautness, or risk of something maybe slightly over-driven, but a flexibility due in some part to O’Farrill’s extensive use of the electric instrument. On the down side, beyond that greater looseness there is the want of a certain urgency, which it’s reasonable to expect somewhere on this CD.
O’Farrill can be laid-back to an extent, at least nudging the line behind which lagging becomes dragging. Phoenix Rivera is a drummer-percussionist of some capacity, but rather than having the chance to demonstrate the capacity to drive a band, he’s often marking time so that O’Farrill can phrase lines free of the close metronome, and providing a safety-net that O’Farrill at times comes too near falling into. Perhaps Andy Gonzalez is too used to playing along with the electric piano to find on his bass the bottom that’s missing from some of this music (like Rivera he’s often too unintrusive).
Jed Levy is a respectable tenorist who has been described as undervalued, and it’s not clear whether his cool school sort of sound (another happy candidate for would-have-been Messengerdom) suffers from a certain lack of forward impulse. There’s no problem with his flute solo on “Starry Night”. The pianist has to pick up his pace from too slow an entry into his solo, following Levy, on “New Meaning”. There was never real danger of his not sounding unhurried. The compositions are very much of a hard bop sort, as featured by the aforementioned Blakey and Silver ensembles. The common plague of saminess on star plays only his own tunes is not to be experienced here.
At just under ninety seconds, the eighth and last track (following items respectively 6,6,6,4, 8, 7 and 9 minutes approximately) demonstrates Seeley’s talent for atmospheric muted playing with tinkly rhythm accompaniments. It’s nice and strange and this is all in all his record. But I think I’ll unearth some Art Blakey to stir my depths just a little more.