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Darren English: Imagine Nation

Dan Bilawsky By

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Trumpeter Darren English carries the spirit of South Africa and the entire history of jazz in his horn. On this, his debut album, the Cape Town-born, Atlanta-based English pays tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, matches wits and chops with fellow trumpeters Russell Gunn and Joe Gransden on "Cherokee," partners with vocalist Carmen Bradford on a pair of classics, and goes toe-to-toe with saxophonist Greg Tardy on "Bullet In The Gunn." He comes away from all of it sounding confident, focused, and fresh. That's no easy feat, and he's clearly no slouch.

English, as Gunn rightly notes in his liner essay for this album, gives off shades of Terence Blanchard in his work. The warmth of tone, seriousness of intent, and marriage between the beautiful and brooding that jazz fans associate with Blanchard can all be found here. But English is no copycat. He's simply taken aspects of one of his influences and worked them into his own personality and artistic concept. One need only hear the three works that comprise the suite in honor of Mandela to realize that English has his own voice: The title track, in addition to spotlighting pianist Kenny Banks Jr., gives English a chance to move from a detached yet optimistic stance to a position of strength; a cool-toned approach dominates on "Pledge For Peace," a number that intersperses Mandela interview snippets throughout and contains some attractive saxophone work from Tardy; and all of the emotions surrounding the subject's life and the dawning of a new nation come to a head on "The Birth," a lengthy and epic work that builds in power and allows English to truly shine.

Those three tracks by themselves establish English as a bright new voice and a force to be reckoned with, but they only provide a partial view of the man and his music. To catch a glimpse of his lyrical gifts and creative spirit you need to venture on over to "Body And Soul." It opens on English, sans mouthpiece, working over bassist Billy Thornton's arco lines. He puts the mouthpiece in place after the opening chorus, continuing to paint beautiful ideas on this most familiar of vehicles, but that introduction stays with you through the entire song. And that's only one of several classics that become him. "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" is given a lift by English's fluid and fiery interjections and first-rate soloing, and "I've Never Been In Love Before" succeeds through his adoption of a tradition-minded approach. Both numbers show off different aspects of his artistry, adding to the already-established thought that English is the complete package and then some. His is a trumpet voice that's clearly destined for big things.

Track Listing: Imagine Nation; Body And Soul; Bebop; What A Little Moonlight Can Do; Pledge For Peace; The Birth; Skylark; I've Never Been In Love Before; Bullet In The Gunn; Cherokee.

Personnel: Darren English: trumpet; Kenny Banks Jr.: piano; Billy Thornton: bass; Greg Tardy: tenor saxophone (5, 6, 9) Carmen Bradford: vocals (4, 7); Russell Gunn: trumpet (10); Joe Gransden: trumpet (10).

Title: Imagine Nation | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Hot Shoe Records

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