Hugh Ragin Trumpet Ensemble: Fanfare & Fiesta

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Until 1999, Hugh Ragin was vastly under-recorded. Appearing sporadically with David Murray, Anthony Braxton, D.D. Jackson or Roscoe Mitchell, Ragin inserted his individualistic style into his sounds, provoking an undercurrent of demand for more fully realized work. Justin Time followed up on Ragin's promise when it released An Afternoon In Harlem last year, a message-laden project that combined the energy of Harlem with Sun Ra-inspired spirituality and ruminations about escapes from slavery.

On Fanfare & Fiesta, messages are laid aside so that Ragin and his fellow musicians can revel in the joy created by unfettered trumpeting. This second Ragin album is recommended for anyone who perceives truth and inspiration in the extroverted sound of the instrument.

Trumpet and flugelhorn legend Clark Terry contributes hilariously and flawlessly to two of his own compositions. As a result, he alters the language and attitude of the group of younger trumpeters through the force of his personality expressed through his horns. In fact, part of the rationale for the recording of Fanfare & Fiesta was Ragin's attempt to recapture the spirit of an earlier Chicago performance composed of himself, C.T., Marcus Belgrave and Lew Soloff.

Terry's "Finger Filibuster" consists of a blues adorned with brass lines unmistakably associated with his flowing style. After Terry's and Ragin's introduction of the theme, the tune splits into the trumpet quartet and the flugelhorn master trading fours with drummer Bruce Cox. But the track that makes Clark Terry's presence a level above his apperance on many other albums is his pulling-your-leg combination of Mumbles talk with spurious Spaceman talk on "Spacemen." After Terry and Ragin indulge in put-on teacher-and-student "gibberish" on the trumpets, they break into a rocketing "Jupiter dance" consisting of trademark mumbles, muted trumpet vocalizations and extroverted solos over altered "I've Got Rhythm" changes.

Fanfare & Fiesta is much more than backing up a guest appearance by one of the icons of the trumpet.

Ragin chose the correct title for the album because it connotes a celebration established by the sound of brassmen—and that's what it is. The song "Fanfare & Fiesta" (appearing for the first time in 1997 on D.D. Jackson's Justin Time CD, Paired Down Volume One) recalls the importance of the trumpet in creating flamenco references and Mexican allusions, particularly regarding bullfights. Having grown up in southern Texas, Ragin had early exposure to some of this music, which, frankly, hasn't been heard much since Miles Davis' sublime Sketches Of Spain and the heyday of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass.

But Fanfare & Fiesta is much more than recalling childhood influences.

One would think, what with all of the Lester Bowie references on the album, that Ragin is trying to revive the spirit of Brass Fantasy. But no, Ragin's real inspiration, as one realizes listening to Fanfare & Fiesta, is the World Saxophone Quartet. That group's free and unplanned interactive improvisation set the stage for "Harmonic Architecture," for instance. After an exclamatory chorus of forceful accents, wide intervals, lower-register trills and smears, Omar Kabir, backed by the other brassmen, uses his wah-wah mute to simulate human conversation (as does Clark Terry) over indeterminate changes. Zollar and Ragin do the same thing in a spirited dialogue before all of the brass players improvise freely. Part II of the tune presents Ragin punctuating drum and piano interjections with wide-ranging intervals of single notes.

But Fanfare & Fiesta is much more than imitating the human voice through the trumpet.

Ragin pays tribute to Lester Bowie's vast influence in opening up the potential of the sound of the trumpet when the brass quartet performs Bowie's "How Strange." With expected growls and tales of woe communicated through the plunger mutes and long tones without the rhythm section, "How Strange" becomes a meditation developed over a drone-like sound. It's appropriate, then, that Ragin's "A Prayer For Lester Bowie" borrows the same technique, long tones sustained in meditation in the same key as "How Strange." Ingeniously, Ragin arranges for the individuals in the quartet to hold out the same note, as in prayer, over bassist Jaribu Shahid's introductory solo, one replacing the other after several measures. Then, the meditation becomes a canon, the trumpets repeating the leader's statement in a round of sound.

Special mention should be made of the Trumpet Ensemble's rhythm section as well, two of whom—Jaribu Shahib and Craig Taborn—appeared on the early James Carter recordings. Combined with drummer James Cox, the section is ready for any development that the Ensemble may shape as it explores the compositions. Accustomed to James Carter's unpredictability, Taborn responds to the Ensemble's suggestions with energetic and imaginative work that enhances the total effect, such as his full-keyboarded workout on "Emergency Exit,".

Much more than an a single musical tribute or musical element, Fanfare & Fiesta is a full-bodied CD that brings together all of Ragin's influences for the first time and presents what may become his working ensemble.



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