179

Russell Gunn: Ethnomusicology, Volume 1

Douglas Payne By

Sign in to view read count
Few attempts at a jazz and hip hop union have ever been successful or satisfying. Maybe it's one school's inability to understand the other or the problematic potential of getting two such different audiences in the same room. But, somehow, the maverick 28-year-old trumpeter Russell Gunn has made it work with Ethnomusicology, one of the finest and most original jazz documents to come along in some time. On this, his first Atlantic set, Gunn departs distinctively from his previous Muse and High Note releases, coupling his protean roar with hard-funk rhythms, electric instrumentation and even DJ Apollo's turntables. Most startling of all, though, is how traditional and timeless it all sounds: like jazz modes and bop phrasing filtered through r & b rhythms and hip hop stylization (mercifully not the reverse, which ruins any good attempt). But consider that Gunn's résumé includes contributions to both Wynton Marsalis's opera Blood on The Fields and the funk of brother Branford's diametrically opposed Buckshot LeFonque. And while he's held court (and his own) with legends like James Moody and Jimmy Heath, Gunn grew up idolizing L.L. Cool J and has gone on to record hits with Maxwell and Lou Reed.

So nothing about Ethnomusicology should surprise. Still, it does. It's thoroughly invigorating and inviting. Consistently, throughout, Gunn explores the jazz tradition with insight and reverence and through his masterful delivery comes up with something that has plenty of street credibility too.

Appropriately, Gunn introduces his concept with Joe Zawinul's "74 Miles Away" (originally performed by Cannonball Adderley, who, with Woody Shaw, seems to steer Gunn's jazz approach here). Replete with a P-Funk-style helium sermonette ("all that's required is an open mind and two ears"), "74 Miles Away" is especially notable for a delicious taste of the trumpeter's ever elegant phrasing. It is Gunn's gift for melody which is often most memorable as the beats rescind or disappear altogether, as on the lovely and hit-worthy ballad "Doll," a feature for Gunn's flugelhorn and Special EFX-man Chieli Minucci's guitar.

But it is the muscular rhythms and aggressive funk that most dominate Ethnomusicology. Sample the relentless ostinatos of the modal "Folkz" or the Indian drone of "Shiva," both fine features for the commanding horns of Gregory Tardy, Bruce Williams and Andre Heyward.

Gunn's conceptions reach sonic perfection in no small measure to the awesome powers of his like-minded rhythm section: James Hurt on piano, Rodney Jordan on bass and, most especially, the diversely imaginative drummer Woody Williams. They are especially noteworthy on the disc's best tracks: the razor-sharp Cannonball funk of "Sybil's Blues" (featuring a brief chat on the blues from, of all people, Wynton Marsalis!), the surprisingly straight-forward yet danceable (!) cover of Woody Shaw's "Woody 1: On The New Ark" (from Shaw's neglected 1979 masterwork, Woody III ) and Branford Marsalis's "The Blackwidow Blues," beautiful bop that would make Art Blakey proud (even as it samples Jeru the Damaja's "Da Bichez"!).

Having just noticed all the exclamations used above, it's worth noting that Ethnomusicology is brimming with such arresting punctuation. Gunn may have been intending dancefloor fluff or, more likely, an electric redux on straight-ahead jazz. But he's crafted something more substantial that might actually serve to bridge the gap between the old and the new as we transition into jazz's second century. Ethnomusicology is quite an achievement.

Songs:74 Miles Away - Intro; Shiva; Sybil's Blues; DJ Apollo Interlude; Woody I: On The New Ark; The Blackwidow Blues; Doll; Folkz; Andre Heyward Interlude; Mr. Hurt.

Players:Russell Gunn: trumpet, flugelhorn, organ bass, Vox, Human Beatbox, tambourine; Gregory Tardy: tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet; Bruce Williams: alto sax, e flat clarinet, cowbell; Andre Heyward: trombone; Chieli Minucci: guitar; James Hurt: piano, Fender Rhodes, organ; Rodney Jordan: bass; Woody Williams: drums; Khalil Kwame Bell: percussion; DJ Apollo: turntables.

| Record Label: Atlantic Jazz | Style: Funk/Groove


Shop

More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "Duet" CD/LP/Track Review Duet
by Budd Kopman
Published: October 1, 2016
Read "A Cut Through The Heart" CD/LP/Track Review A Cut Through The Heart
by Jack Gold-Molina
Published: March 30, 2016
Read "Rub Out The Word" CD/LP/Track Review Rub Out The Word
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 21, 2016
Read "Goran Ivanovic Trio" CD/LP/Track Review Goran Ivanovic Trio
by Budd Kopman
Published: May 1, 2016
Read "Münster Bern" CD/LP/Track Review Münster Bern
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 28, 2016
Read "Stripped" CD/LP/Track Review Stripped
by James Nadal
Published: August 22, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!