Trumpeter Russell Gunn demonstrated a very personal vision of jazz fusion on the first volume in this series, which generated a lot of media interest and earned him a Grammy nomination. He continues along the same vein with Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2, a fine showcase for his manifold crossover interests.
It's too easy to dismiss this music as lightweight or trivial. Gunn is serious about his work, and there's ample evidence on Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2 to prove the point. His interpretation of Monk's "Epistrophy," for example, blows the original apart. Building layers of piano vamp, guitar pulse, bass bop, scratching, and hip-hop lyrics, this piece eventually settles into a harmonized statement of the theme on the horns. The foundations lay down a laid-back groove while Gunn takes his opportunity to solo convincingly on top. One tune later, on "Del Rio," he invades Afro-Latin rhythms with a Cubanized theme. It's all part of Gunn's extended continuum, which includes Go-Go swing piano ("It Don't Mean a Thing"), free improv ("Kebbi Williams Interlude"), Afro-Cuban dance music ("Del Rio"), understated Brazillian cool ("Dance of the Concubine"), hip-hop attitude ("Epistrophy"), and airtight funk ("Caravan"). Only the soul ballads "I Wish" and "Lyne's Joint" sag a bit at times, rearing the ugly head of smooth jazz.
Gunn has come up with a beautiful blend of styles, and it's remarkable that his group can stretch to fit each niche. Much of that effect comes from the efforts of multi-talented pianist Marc Cary and versatile drummer Woody Williams. But guitarist Carl Burnett lends some critical support, and the other horns play important roles both as support and lead.
One has the sense from listening to Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2 that these musicians had a lot of fun putting this record together. Adding to this spirit, the pictures of band members all feature images from early childhood. But make no mistake: Gunn is at the helm, and his vision is what keeps everyone together. Like the best kind of fusion, this record comes off like it was put together effortlessly. Everyone gets a chance to stretch out and have some fun. Hardly by accident, though. Don't dismiss Russell Gunn: he's a man with some interesting ideas. Check this disc out.
Track Listing: Intro (a.k.a. I Think I Love You); Epistrophy; Del Rio (a.k.a. Anita); Dance of the Concubine; It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Go-Go Swing); Kebbi Williams Interlude; I Wish; Caravan; Lyne's Joint; Outro.
Personnel: Russell Gunn: trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, fender rhodes, keyboards; Gunn Fu: vocals; Andre Heyward: trombone; Kebbi Williams: tenor saxophone; Marc Cary: piano, fender rhodes; Carl Burnett: guitar; Lonnie Plaxico: acoustic bass; Woody Williams: drums; D.J. Apollo: turntables. Special guests: Sherman Irby: flute, alto saxophone; Shedrick Mitchell: piano; Tony Suggs: keyboards.