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John Bailey: Can You Imagine?

Dan Bilawsky By

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John Bailey: Can You Imagine?
The world loves a good "what if..." story, so why not explore the idea of Dizzy Gillespie as president? The famed trumpeter actually ran for the highest office in the land in 1964. And though the move was largely in jest, he didn't shy away from the issues of the day while campaigning. Sadly, many of the same problems that Gillespie explored still plague the United States, but trumpeter John Bailey doesn't get weighed down by that sobering sadness—or pure politics—with this imagined scenario. Instead, on Can You Imagine?, he looks to the sunny side and tackles the notion of a better nation—a place of positivity which could have been, and still can be.

Fronting a band which expands from a sextet to an octet depending on the track, Bailey is in fine blowing form throughout. Likewise, his band mates take care of business. With the rock-solid rhythm team of pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Victor Lewis backing a front line which includes Bailey, saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trombonist Stafford Hunter (plus guests), things seriously happen. Fictional setting or not, the playing here is real deal all the way.

Bailey kicks off the program with the heat of "Pebbles In The Pocket," a driving original emphasizing a grains-of-wisdom theme and opening up for some strong solo stands. The album's largest statement—"President Gillespie Suite"—immediately follows. A three-movement work, housed within a single track lasting more that 12 minutes, it gives pause to explore Gillespie's strength of character as "The Humanitarian Candidate," his quest on "Road To The Blues House," and his upbeat nature on "President Gillespie's Birthday Song." Karn's resolute bass groove sets the tone, Bailey delivers some muted magic before the picture expands, guest Earl McIntyre drops in to walk the trail with his bass trombone, and Dillard's tenor shines alongside the leader's trumpet (and Lewis' drums) during the big hurrah.

A cool strutting, hard bopping number dubbed "The Blues House" further testifies to Bailey's skills with the pen (while living up to its colorful form), but his originals don't dominate the playlist. The six remaining pieces pull from different sources and sounds. Lewis contributes a pair of compositions—"The Touch Of Her Vibe," which speaks to weightier notions and simmering suggestions, and "From The Heart," inspired by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose own Volunteered Slavery (Atlantic, 969) serves as a point of reference for Bailey here. Dillard offers up the waltzing "Elite State Of Mind," one of several numbers colored by guest flutist Janet Axelrod's notable contributions. And a trio of surprising (and suprisingly sympathetic) covers—Chico O'Farrill's morphing "Ballad From Oro, Incienso Y Mira," Chico Buarque's bewitching "Valso Rancho," and Jule Styne's Barbara Streisand-associated "People"—accounts for the balance of the program.

We'll never know exactly what a world with President Diz would've been like, but we can be sure that John Bailey carries the hope of that possibility in his horn. Can You Imagine? emphasizes that fact while looking forward to brighter times ahead.

Track Listing

Pebbles In The Pocket; President Gillespie Suite: I. The Humanitarian Candidate, II. Road To The Blues House, President Gillespie's Birthday Song; The Touch Of Her Vibe; The Blues House; Ballad From Oro, Incienso Y Mira; Elite State Of Mind; Valsa Rancho; From The Heart; People.

Personnel

Earl McIntyre: bass trombone, tuba (2, 5); Janet Axelrod: flute, alto flute, bass flutes (5-7).

Album information

Title: Can You Imagine? | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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