As an alternative to Wynton Marsalis, who steadfastly hangs onto the singular American Jazz Tradition and, granted, eloquently and skillfully keeps it alive through his playing, educating and entrepreneuring, trumpeter Russell Gunn has shown an unerring desire over the course of the past ten years to merge styles into a personal language that asserts jazz as the melting pot it truly is. As much as Gunn has proven himself to be a capable hard and post bop player on early albums including Young Gunn and Gunn Fu , it has been with his not altogether consistent but always searching series of Ethnomusicology recordings where he has shown his true colours. Blending hip hop, soul, blues, traditional jazz forms, rock and more, Ethnomusicology Vol. 4: Live in Atlanta shows that diverse elements can blend into a cogent and cohesive whole that is truly greater than the sum of its disparate parts.
Opening the set with a dramatic reading of the Bill Evans/Miles Davis classic "Blue in Green," Gunn segues from the rubato introduction of the theme into an up-tempo samba that would have fit well in the early, Latin-based Return to Forever. Rocky Bryant's energetic drum solo leads into a fitful electric trumpet excursion from Gunn that segues into "More Sybil's Blues," which starts as a rocking feature for guitarist Carl Burnett's Albert Collins-inflected lines before shifting into a soulful vamp that nods more than a little to Miles' '80s bands, before returning to another blues-drenched, Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque solo from Burnett.
"Summertime" starts at a surprising clip, the band vamping for nearly three minutes before Gunn's wah-wah trumpet pulls the theme out of its up-tempo funkiness and draws it down into a moving solo piano segment by Nick Rolfe which demonstrates that, as stylistically broad as the group can be, the essence of the jazz tradition is never too far away. But it doesn't last long before the rhythm section is back and turntablist D.J. Neil Armstrong is bringing a hip hop element into the mix. "Lynne's Joint" is a schizophrenic tune that blends a soulful theme with a rhythm section that combines spacious simplicity with a busier urban edge.
Gunn has come under no uncertain degree of heat for his unapologetically cosmopolitan approach. Purists are quick to dismiss it as something other than jazz, while supporters see it as a logical progression, a natural evolution. Whether or not one subscribes to Gunn's concept, there is no doubt that he is an extremely talented player with a specific vision that has been consistently developing over the course of the last decade. And he surrounds himself with capable players who clearly understand the history and the future of jazz. Pariah or visionary, Gunn deserves respect for finding his direction and following it with determination, passion and zeal.
Track Listing: Sam Yi (Spoken Intro); Blue in Green; More Sybil's Blues; Summertime; Lyne's Joint; Shiva the Destroyer
Personnel: Russell Gunn (electric trumpet, flugelhorn), Nick Rolfe (piano, fender rhodes, keyboards), Carlos Henderson (electric bass), Carl Burnett (electric guitar), Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion), Rocky Bryant (drums), D.J. Neil Armstrong (turntables)