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Extended Analysis

Sonny Fortune: Trilogy Collection

By Published: December 16, 2006
Sonny Fortune
Trilogy Collection
Sound Reason

Jazz is blessed by the music of alto saxophonist and flutist Sonny Fortune, a living master who always plays directly from the heart. In addition to his work with Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Nat Adderley, and Mongo Santamaria, over the years Fortune has led many dates of his own. He considers his three mid-90s Blue Note releases to be among his most significant recorded work to date, and he's just re-released them on his own label as Trilogy Collection. All three were produced by Fortune and engineered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder at his Englewood Cliffs studio. This combination, plus first-rate compositions and sidemen such as Buster Williams, Billy Hart, Kenny Barron, John Hicks and Joe Lovano, make Trilogy a magnum opus of contemporary jazz.

The first CD is Four in One, comprised of ten Monk compositions performed with verve and style. Clearly Monk has a resonance with Fortune—the interpretations are spot on, yet they are infused with his unique spirit. He's joined by Kirk Lightsey (piano), Buster Williams and Santi Debriano (bass), and Billy Hart and Ronnie Burrage (drums), in rhythm sections that understand Monk and make his songs shine. The CD opens with the title track, a burst of joyful energy with a Fortune solo exuding his trademark graceful strength.

"Trinkle Tinkle"and "Hackensack" are delightful versions of Monk masterpieces, both featuring Fortune leads filled with lovely, intricate runs. "Pannonica" is an unusual take of this Monk chestnut, a duet with Fortune on flute and Debriano on bass that's exquisitely spare and heart-piercing. The CD's highlight is "Reflections," a duet for Fortune on alto and Lightsey on piano. The song is an enchanting, languid ballad where Fortune's gentle phrasing embraces every note, an expression of pure emotion that's rare to behold.

The second disc, A Better Understanding, features nine Fortune originals and is an embarrassment of riches, with one excellent song after another and top-notch accompaniment by Kenny Barron on piano, Wayne Dockery on bass, Billy Hart and Ronnie Burrage on drums, plus appearances by Jerry Gonzalez, Robin Eubanks and Steve Berrios. The opening track, "Mind Games," is a pretty, wistful melody with Fortune multi-tracked on soprano and flute. The song reveals once again Fortune's ability to communicate—he clearly feels life keenly and this gift is further enhanced by Barron, one of jazz' most lyrical and intuitive players.

"Awakening" is a superb song with a Latin feel, an inspiring, uplifting tune where Fortune plays flute like a bird set free. "It's a Bird" is an up-tempo paean to Charlie Parker, Fortune doing an amazing job of capturing Bird's essential spirit and the melody featuring a powerhouse front line of Fortune on alto, Gonzalez on trumpet and Eubanks on trombone. "Never Again is Such a Long Time" is a heartbreakingly beautiful contemplation of lost love, with Fortune on flute and Barron contributing glistening runs.

On the third disc, From Now On, Fortune is joined by Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Joe Lovano on tenor, the late John Hicks on piano, Santi Debriano on bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Steve Berrios on percussion. It's a strong group and their mutual understanding is evident throughout. The CD has wonderful ballads, including the Rodgers Grant tune "Gift of Love," where Fortune perfectly conveys the fragile tenderness of human emotions, and Fortune's "From Now On," a poignant song where all the horns dig deep into the tune's bittersweet core.

"Glue Fingers" is a ten-minute up-tempo treat with the powerhouse frontline of Fortune, Henderson, and Lovano. Each horn gets copious solo space as does the elegant Hicks. "This Side of Infinity" is a Fortune-Larry Willis tune with a melody so light and joyful it dances on air.

In a way the three CDs mirror the evolution of a jazz musician: the first depicts learning from the masters, the second expressing one's own voice, and the third sharing one's gift with members of the younger generation.

There are many sides to Sonny Fortune, but whatever mood he's exploring his music is deeply heartfelt. That's what makes Fortune's sound so compelling, and this is why his music is so easy to connect with. Anyone who's been lucky enough to hear Fortune live during one of his frequent gigs in the city can testify to his nobility and warmth, and the Trilogy Collection is a special compendium that conveys all of these virtues and more.

Tracks: CD1 (Four in One): Four in One; Criss Cross; Reflections; Monk's Dream; Hornin' In; Coming on the Hudson; Trinkle Tinkle; Pannonica; Hackensack; Ask Me Now. CD2 (A Better Understanding): Mind Games; Laying it Down; Awakening; A Swing Touch; Never Again is Such a Long Time; It Ain't What it Was; It's a Bird; Tribute to Holiday; Long Before Our Mothers Cried. CD3 (From Now On): Glue Fingers; This Side of Infinity; From Now On; Come in Out of The Rain; Suspension; On Second and Fifth; Gift Of Love; Thoughts.

Personnel: CD1 (Four in One): Sonny Fortune: alto saxophone & flute; Kirk Lightsey: piano; Buster Williams: bass; Santi Debriano: bass; Billy Hart: drums; Ronny Burrage: drums. CD2 (A Better Understanding): Sonny Fortune: alto & soprano saxophones and flutes; Jerry Gonzalez: trumpet, flugelhorn & congas; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Kenny Barron: piano; Wayne Dockery: bass; Ronnie Burrage: drums; Billy Hart: drums; Steve Berrios: percussion. CD3 (From Now On): Sonny Fortune: alto saxophone; Eddie Henderson: trumpet, Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; John Hickks: piano; Santi Debriano: bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums; Steve Berrios: percussion.

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