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Kelly Rossum: Family

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Minneapolis trumpeter Kelly Rossum's previous release, the excellent Line (612 Sides, 2007) was in some ways as abstract and linear as its title. Family, fittingly, is as comforting and warm as its predecessor was austere—but also, appropriately, slightly bittersweet and elegiac.

Partly, the difference is due to the presence of pianist Bryan Nichols. Line is a piano-less disc in the grand tradition of 1960s New Thing ensembles like Archie Shepp's. Here, Nichols adds warmth in the chords and accents he finds to occupy spaces left wide open on the earlier record. The redoubtable Bates brothers once again fill out the rhythm section.

What both records share is generous portions of Rossum's deceptively irreverent trumpet playing. Squarely in the lineage of jester Lester Bowie, Rossum's trumpet style reaches back past bop and post-bop masters of the instrument to find common cause with the raucous inaugural generation of the instrument (e.g., Roy Eldridge). A case in point: the deliberately antediluvian "Mr. Blueberry" features flippantly virtuoso turns with both plunger and Harmon mutes. Indeed, Rossum, for all his glib flourishes, carefully embraces a large swath of the instrument's history.

"Family," for many listeners, will mean the presence of children; in that vein, "Pure Imagination," from the Willy Wonka songbook, is appropriately guileless. In principle, it's akin to Miles Davis's "Someday My Prince Will Come," from the Disney repertoire, but in practice it sounds more like Bowie's "Howdy Doody Time" (from The Great Pretender, ECM, 1982).

Speaking of Davis, Rossum and company cheekily cover "If I Were A Bell," made exceedingly famous by Miles's classic 1950s combo, but not frequently reprised. Why else include it here but to underscore, boldly, the contrast between the two trumpeters' styles? To his credit, Rossum acquits himself ably in this comparative light. Having distinguished himself from Miles's shadow, Rossum comfortably plays a mid-tempo blues with a mute on the following cut ("After the Show"), just as Miles himself might have done.

With the exception of the athletic but cool "A Word From Our Sponsors," all the selections here are quite approachable, and indeed beckoning. "Somebody Come and Play" even manages to quote both Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" and the Sesame Street theme. But this welcoming groove is never cloying: Rossum and pianist Nichols, in particular, dependably push at the boundaries of "inside" playing.

Family is consistently strong, with an emotional and thematic coherence suggested by, though not rigidly constrained by, the concept embodied in its title. It is possible that Rossum would make a much greater splash if he were to leave Minneapolis for New York. Then again, such a move might radically change the tenor of his work. If so, we can be glad he has stayed put.

Track Listing: Family; This is where my head is at; Mr. Blueberry; Pure Imagination: A Word From Our Sponsors; Somebody Come and Play; Interlude; If I Were A Bell; After the Snow; Family Reprise.

Personnel: Kelly Rossum: trumpet; Bryan Nichols: piano; Chris Bates: bass; JT Bates: drums.

Title: Family | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: 612 Sides


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