John Raymond: Strength & Song (2012)
Raymond, a native of Minnesota who relocated to New York after spending his college years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, distinguishes himself from the get-go here on Strength & Song. The first thing that's immediately striking is his tone quality. While today's trends tend to favor in-studio manufacturing of a trumpeter's tone either leaning toward a warm-and-wet quality or an artificially bright soundRaymond's trumpet voice is au natural. This real-as-can-be quality immediately separates him from the pack, but it is what he does with this voice that helps him hold interest across the entire album. His focused energy and confidence steer this ship, whether traversing rough seas or smooth waters. Plenty of both can be found on this album.
His band mates prove to be well matched, each bringing something different to the table. Guitarist Gilad Hekselman often channels his inner Kurt Rosenwinkel ("The Rock"), his cutting tones provide a nice contrast to Raymond's pure-as-the- driven-snow sound. Drummer Cory Cox delivers ever-evolving grooves that show a connection to the work of boundary-pushers like Obed Calvaire, Jonathan Blake and Eric Harland. He's capable of delivering drumming of epic proportions ("Motivations Of A Pharisee"), tangling with Raymond as the music takes flight (Joe Henderson's "Isotope"), or simply laying back and shading a song with a less-is-more approach.
Bassist Raviv Markovitz provides a springy bottom that meshes well with Cox, distinguishing himself early on during his semi-conversant dealings with, and beneath Raymond ("Already & Not Yet"). The final piece of the core line-up comes from Javier Santiago's piano and Fender Rhodes work. While pianists often dominate the proceedings with more than their fair share of solos, Santiago doesn't fall into this category. He has his moments in the spotlight, but his work as a colorist, molding the harmonic foundations of each piece, is of greater importance. Two notable guests provide added interest, with pianist Gerald Clayton coming aboard for the roaming "Onward" (and its separate coda track) and alto saxophonist Tim Green overshadowing the leader on the heart-pounding "Motivations Of A Pharisee."
Raymond's choice to end the album with a religious-based, spoken word conversation atop a benign composition ("Psalm 37: Anthem") proves to be his only misstep here, as the music should be left to do the talking. However, that's easily forgiven. Strength & Song signals the arrival of an exciting new trumpet personality poised for greater things.
Track Listing: Already & Not Yet; Onward; Onward Outro; The Rock; Ebeneezer; O Come, O Come Emmanuel; The Way Home; Motivations Of A Pharisee; Isotope; The Poor Blind Man; Psalm 37: Anthem.
Personnel: John Raymond: trumpet, flugelhorn, spoken vocals (11); Gilad Hekselman: guitar; Javier Santiago: piano, Fender Rhodes; Raviv Markovitz: bass; Cory Cox: drums; Gerald Clayton: piano (2, 3); Tim Green: alto saxophone (8, 11); Zac Martin: spoken vocals (11).
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Modern Jazz