Jim Rotondi: Dark Blue

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Back in 1997 when Introducing Jim Rotondi announced that a major new trumpeter star was on the ascent, few could have predicted how important and prolific Rotondi would become to the mainstream landscape. A foremost stylist in the lineage of Freddie Hubbard and Wood Shaw, Rotondi quickly proved he had absorbed the legacy, only to jettison imitation in favor of innovation. Working regularly with his own groups and the hard bop ensemble One For All, Rotondi was a major force in New York before heading to Austria to teach in 2008.

Since becoming an expatriate, additions to the trumpeter's discography have been few, making Dark Blue such a welcomed addition to his oeuvre. Having already formed a strong union with vibraphone master Joe Locke on 2001's Destination Up and 2010's 1000 Rainbows, there's no doubt that this front line packs quite a punch. Furthermore, pianist David Hazeltine has been a regular associate of Rotondi's for many years. The ringers here are bassist David Wong and Carl Allen. In fact, the drummer's work is quite a surprise. Allen's approach is somewhat the polar opposite of the splashier Joe Farnsworth, Rotondi's usual trap man of choice. Nonetheless, Allen eagerly steps into the trumpeter's sphere of influence for some of his best work to date.

Dedicated to his new home base, "In Graz" is a bristling flag waver with an ascending/descending six-note riff that leads right to Jim's authoritative statement. Notice how he paces himself while giving full weight to each of his notes, regardless of tempo and extreme of register. The following "BC" is for Canadian club owner and musician Cory Weeds and it too speaks with clarity of purpose, something that seems to be rare these days. In other words, Rotondi wears his hard bop on his sleeve at a time when some consider such a thing passé. Regardless, nothing beats musicians of this caliber working on a strong program of original material and innovative arrngements.

On several cuts Hazletine switches over to Fender Rhodes and the results are splendid, adding yet another splash of color. Working in a straight eight-note groove, both "Biru Kirusai" and "Our Day Will Come" simmer with funky overtones and add variety to an already disparate program of mainly originals inspired by Rotondi's experiences touring the world. Given consideration after hearing up and comer Jacob Collier make it his own, Jim takes "Pure Imagination" into waltz time with a fiery solo the cooks from start to literal finish.

Serving as the ballad of the set, the title track is a textbook example of pacing and attention to tone. Rotondi has the chops to do this kind of thing in autopilot mode, but that is just not his style. He is always to be found in the moment and Allen's choice of sticks to usher in the middle section is a truly sagacious choice. The loping groover "Going to the Sun" closes the proceedings and calls attention to the chemistry of Locke and Hazeltine. Having two chording instruments can be a challenging proposition in lesser hands, yet this pair knows when to get out of each other's way and each contributes his own share of memorable solo spots. Bravo, Jim. All that can be said is "keep them coming!"

Track Listing: In Graz; BC; Biru Kirusai; Dark Blue; Highline; Pure Imagination; Monk's Mood; Le Crest; Our Day Will Come; Going to the Sun.

Personnel: Jim Rotondi: trumpter and flugelhorn; Joe Locke: vibraphone; David Hazeltine; piano and Fender Rhodes; David Wong: bass; Carl Allen: drums.

Title: Dark Blue | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions

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