The jazz suite has grown into an art form all its own. Ellington created the form in the same way Franz Josef Haydn created the string quartet. Both men did not so much create the form by stimulating its genesis as much as bringing it to its mature actualization.
Other jazz composers have contributed to this form, most recently (and successfully) Wynton Marsalis. For present consideration: trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's third contribution to the Basin Street Records library, the Half Past Autumn Suite. This suite is a collage inspired by the photography of Gordon Parks, who help spearhead the project. The title is derived from an HBO-produced documentary exploring Park's rich art and life. Mayfield composed ten compositions while in the presence of Park's photographs, attempting to capture the pathos and ethos reflected in each. Mayfield, who is best known as part of Basin Street's Los Hombres Calientes, breaks Latin ranks to produce a sumptuous musical entrée.
For the festivities, Mayfield leads a talented sextet, augmented on one piece each by Wynton Marsalis and Parks himself on piano. As a whole, the suite hangs together beneath and introspective and impressionistic canopy. At times lush and at times jagged, the music is humid and potent like the streets of the French Quarter after a late summer rain. The two most compelling pieces are those where the special guests appear. "Blue Dawn" has Marsalis and Mayfield playing a simple blues line, a spiritual descendent of "West End Blues." The improvisation is thoroughly modern as heard through a post-Coltrane prism. The second is a moody tone poem performed as a duet between Parks (on piano) and Mayfield. "Wind Song" sounds very nocturnal, as if Chopin were Debussy 50 years before. It makes for great drama at the close of the disc and an interesting ending to the whole.