Somewhere in the dimly remembered past, before the scufflers were hip and everyone knew what was happenin', there were "hepcats who devised a language all their own, one in which it wasn't difficult to imagine one saying to another, "Hey, man, can you dig being dug?
That shopworn phrase, which serves as the title of trumpeter Carl Saunders' newest album, recorded live at Charlie O's in Van Nuys, California, is the only aspect of the enterprise that is in any way dated. Saunders, who has only recently begun leading his own big band and small groups after years of working mainly as a sideman, is one of the hippest cats on the planet, and when it comes to elucidating modern jazz, he definitely knows what's happenin'. In other words, this is contemporary post-bop trumpet as it should be played.
Regardless of tempo or context, innovative ideas flow from Saunders' nimble brain to his responsive horn as freely as water over Niagara, producing in the listener a feeling of unbridled elation coupled with sheer amazement, as some of his serpentine locutions seem to extend almost beyond belief. What's more, he has developed a technique and vernacular of his own, one that draws on sources from the past but whose synthesis is unequivocally his own. That is to say, he sounds like Carl Saunders, not someone else's clone. Solely for comparison's sake, the trumpeter he brings most often to my mind is Buddy Childers, to whom Saunders must have listened closely and often while they were performing in various West Coast big bands.
As if playing brilliantly weren't enough, Saunders wrote seven of the album's ten selections, and they stand up quite well against Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays, Harry Warren's "There Will Never Be Another You and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba bearing in mind that Saunders the trumpeter can make almost any composition, whatever its source, sound great. And even though Saunders is the album's explicit star and driving force, he has taken care to assemble a sharp and supportive rhythm section comprised of bassist Dave Stone, drummer Santo Savino and one of my favorite young pianists, the astute and always-swinging Christian Jacob.
Except among fellow musicians, who appreciate his remarkable talent and look to him with admiration, Saunders has been a well-kept secret, but with albums as impressive as this one, the cat may be out of the bag. Splendid sound, superb playing time and a scintillating session that's sure to satisfy anyone who prizes sharply honed straight-ahead jazz.
Personnel: Carl Saunders: trumpet, Christian Jacob: piano; Dave Stone: bass; Santo Savino: drums.