Trumpeter and composer Randy Sandke has recorded 22 albums as a leader since 1985 and has appeared on countless others in largely a mainstream and postwar swing setting, and of late he has dabbled in outside jazz. The Mystic Trumpeter
may be Sandke's most ambitious effort to date. The album is presented as "metatonal" music, which is a term that Sandke uses to describe how his compositions use harmonies that are derived in a way that hasn't yet been integrated into jazz.
The album presents two lengthy pieces: "The Mystical Trumpeter," a multi-part composition that was inspired by a poem by Walt Whitman; and "Symphony For Six," a classical selection that uses jazz instrumentation and performance. Sandke's Metatonal Band is a quintet consisting of the trumpeter plus reed player Scott Robinson, pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Dennis Mackrel. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins them on "Symphony For Six."
Each section of the six-part "The Mystic Trumpeter" is subtitled by a phrase from the Whitman poem, such as "Sounds of Smiting Steel" or "The Flames That Heat The World." Sandke has performed this piece twice before in New York with different personnel but has not recorded it until now. The Metatonal Band performs this music using the vocabulary of bebop and cutting-edge jazz, particularly via Robinson's tenor sax and Rosenthal's piano, as well as Sandke's own trumpet.
"Symphony For Six" was also composed in 1995 and performed in New York with different personnel; here, a jazz sextet follows the formal outlines of a classical symphony. After listening, I began to think about how well any radical changes in jazz structure in the past have stood up historically, and in particular, the 1950s work of George Russell's Lydian Theory, as well as the late-'50s Third Stream movement. In recent years, I've read how Miles Davis' thinking regarding his Kind Of Blue session paid heed to Russell (as well as several other non-jazz artists). Reading the liner notes of a Hal McKusick reissue last year, I was surprised by the altoist's devotion to the music of Russell, as well as many mainsteam players of that era.
This is not an easy album to listen to, given its complex arrangements and the frequently changing pace of the compositions. The biggest question for untrained listeners (like myself) is whether they will like it or not. My conclusion is that this is important enough a work for repeated listening.
Personnel: Randy Sandke: trumpet and flugelhorn; Scott Robinson: tenor and soprano sax, bass flute;
Wycliffe Gordon: trombone (on Symphony For Six); Ted Rosenthal: piano; Greg Cohen:bass;
Dennis Mackrel: drums and percussion.