Justin Walter is the trumpeter in Ann Arbor-based band Nomo and a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music. A Call To Arms
is his first album as leader and a marked contrast to his recordings with Nomo, a band with a distinctive take on Afrobeat rhythms, welding them to electronics and techno. A Call To Arms
demonstrates another side to Walter's talentsit's a predominantly straight-ahead, post-bop album of Walter originals and two covers played by a standard quartet lineup: an accessible and enjoyable collection of tunes that highlight Walter's musicianship and writing ability.
"A Call to Arms" opens with a strong theme from Walter before pianist Rick Roe
takes charge with a punchy, rhythmical, solo which makes its own subtle references to Walter's opening phrase. Walter takes his own solo after this, characterised by short, stabbing, and powerful bursts before closing with a reprise of the initial theme. At times Walter's lower register playing seems a little hesitant on this album, lacking the confidence and strength that characterises most of his work, but such moments are brief. His playing on "-60," another original, is especially affecting. This is a slow, sparse, ballad that demands control and precision from the trumpet, and gets it.
"Millie's Song" is a beautiful track, written by Dan Bennett of the Ann Arbor band Dog On Wheels who also plays baritone sax in another Walter band, Song For The Woodland Creatures. "Millie's Song" is underpinned by a tight bass part from Kurt Krahnke
over which Walter plays an emotive trumpet part before stepping back to enable Roe to add his own sparingly played solo. Walter's muted trumpet on the second cover, Duke Ellington
and Billy Strayhorn
's "Isfahan" from Ellington's The Far East Suite
(Bluebird, 1967) is strong and lyricalit needs to be, as the original tune featured Johnny Hodges
on alto sax, giving Walter a great deal to live up to in this respectful reinterpretation. Krahnke is also on top form here, playing a brief but skilful solo. The band stretches this tune out to around double the length of the Ellington original, but with enough freshness and enthusiasm to make this expansion work.
As well as playing trumpet, Walter adds effects to A Call To Arms
but he uses them sparingly, as adjuncts to the overall sound, never in ways that might raise objections from acoustic purists. The result is an album that takes few risks but delivers some beautiful and effectively-arranged tunes and demonstrates the musical potential of the quartet.