Jim Rotondi: Destination Up (2002)
Among the current crop of mainstream jazz trumpeters, Jim Rotondi stands head and shoulders above the crowd. With a crackling extroverted style akin to that of Lee Morgan, Rotondi possesses an incisive harmonic sense and the knack for telling a story. Via his work with the hard bop collective One For All and a reliable set of albums as a leader for Criss Cross, Rotondi has emerged as a major talent deserving of wider recognition.
Rotondi’s first release for Sharp Nine also happens to be among his best to date, feeling very much like a classic in the making. That should come as no surprise considering the ensemble makeup, with the trumpeter sharing lead with vibraphonist Joe Locke. In the same way that Bobby Hutcherson added so much to classic Blue Notes such as Grant Green’s Idle Moments or Joe Henderson’s Mode For Joe, Locke provides a lush carpet that enhances the advanced charts. Holding down the fort, Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth form a tight-knit rhythm team, with the latter two gentlemen especially familiar with Rotondi’s modus operandi.
It’s another old buddy, trombonist/composer Steve Davis who sits in on two tracks and contributes one of the date’s finest compositions, “Evening Shades of Blue.” Typical of Davis’ distinguished writing, this long form tune with a catchy tag is the longest performance of the disc and allows all key members a chance to stretch out at length. Equally enticing are three tunes from Rotondi’s pen, including the bop-tinged “Designated Hitter,” a bluesy tribute to Mulgrew Miller entitled “Miller Time,” and the lovely waltz “Reverence.”
As for appreciating Rotondi’s maturity as a soloist, look no farther than “Park Avenue Petite,” a ballad feature that finds the trumpeter taking his time, looking for the silence between phrases, and holding our interest in a way that only the finest improvisers can. In similar fashion, Rotondi avoids the flashy technical displays and other trite inventions and maybe that’s what makes Destination Up such a keeper.
Track Listing: Designated Hitter, Evening Shades of Blue, Last Ditch Wisdom, Miller Time, Park Avenue Petite, Remember, Reverence, Yams
Personnel: Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joe Locke (vibes), Steve Davis (trombone),Mulgrew Miller (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)