With such notable exceptions as Julius Watkins, Tom Varner and Willie Ruff, the French Horn has not made a large splash as a solo jazz instrument. Often found in orchestras, such as Claude Thornhill's, or in small groups, it adds a distinctive mellow, melodic harmonic substance to the music. Contemporary and classic horn player, Richard Todd, has taken the instrument into a chamber setting for his initial foray into the world of jazz recording, with a smattering of interesting results to say the least. He is joined in this undertaking by a rotating cast of eminent jazz artists, including bassist John Clayton, Billy Childs on piano, Steve Huffsteter on trumpet and Ralph Penland on drums. Also present are a variety of other instruments including the vibes, tuba, harp and accordion. Given the chamber setting, the trick is to make each track sufficiently different to retain the interest of the listener. Even in the world of classical music, chamber music can only take an audience so far before there is a yen for high spirited symphonic stuff. I'm afraid that is what happens here. There are some incredibly beautiful, mellifluous moments on this disk, such as a deeply felt, haunting version of "Emily". Billy Childs helps by bringing his post bop orientation to such cuts as "Quiet Time" and a coy sassiness to "Central Avenue Strut" where Todd's horn takes on the feel of a trombone. Matters move closer to the classical end of the spectrum when David Raksin appears to conduct a small group in his "A Song After Sundown". One tour de force tracks is a Todd/Clayton duet on "`Round Midnight". While all the music, including the Todd originals, has merit, it does get a bit solemn and heavy after a while. Todd tries hard to advance the French Horn as a legitimate jazz solo instrument. But while there are some very good moments on this album, the limitations of the instrument make his task very imposing indeed.
Personnel: Richard Todd - French Horn; Billy Childs - Piano; David Carpenter, Chuck Domanico, John Clayton - Bass; Steve Huffsteter - Trumpet; Dan Higgins - Sax; Ralph Penland - Drums; Alan Estes - Vibes/Quiro; Lenny Castro - Congas; Michael Lang, Alan Pasqua - Piano; Tim May - Guitar; Bob Zimmitti - Vibes; Tommy Johnson - Tuba; David Raksin - Conductor; Frank Marocco - Accordion; Marcia Dickstein - Harp