Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's Half Past Autumn Suite was commissioned by the New Orleans Museum of Art as a tribute to Gordon Parks on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition of his work. The suite was intended as a tribute to Mr. Parks, who is not just a great photographer, but also a writer, filmmaker, poet, and - as shown on this album - an able pianist.
The catalogue entry for this album states that the "the inspiration for the music came from Mr. Parks' photographs as Mr. Mayfield matched the photographic images with musical images." The enhanced CD format of this album and the liner notes might have shown the connection between Mr. Parks' images and Mr. Mayfield's music more fully, but that is a small point.
The fear with an album long on concept is that it will be short on execution, but Half Past Autumn Suite delivers on a musical level, albeit not as expected. The book on Irvin Mayfield is that that he is a great trumpet player, heir to the legacy of Louis Armstrong that now includes modern master trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Nicholas Payton. No doubt about it, Mayfield is a great trumpet player - but it is surprising that his talents as a composer and bandleader, both of which are shown to great advantage on this recording, have not received more notice. The orchestration of the Half Past Autumn Suite strikes the difficult balance of being complex but listenable, an achievement in itself.
The arrangements support the sidemen on this recording so fully that Mr. Mayfield is regularly in danger of having the show stolen by other members of the band. "Blue Dawn," a slow blues with Wynton Marsalis, and the thoughtful, slightly sad original "Wind Song" with Gordon Parks will receive attention on the strength of the guest artists. But even if those cuts receive the most attention, there's still plenty of terrific music to be found elsewhere on this album, the exquisite "Fatimah" being a particular standout.