A Trumpet In The Morning is a first for multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich; it's the first album completely dedicated to his large group works and the first album under his name that's basically directed by his hand rather than his horn(s). The intrepid Ehrlich, who fell under the sway of St. Louis' Black Artists Group (BAG) in his formative years and fell in with the AACM crowd when he arrived in New York in the late '70s, has been putting out adventurous music under his own name for three decades. More than two dozen dates on labels like Tzadik, Enja, Black Saint and Palmetto attest to his skills as a composer, communicator and inquisitive musical seeker, but none of them are as grand in scope as A Trumpet In The Morning. He may have worked with an expanded lineup that maxed out at fourteen musicians on The Long View (Enja/Justin Time, 2003), but that almost seems like a modest gathering when compared to this one.
A Trumpet In The Morning has two dozen of Marty Ehrlich's musical associates interpreting six of his large group works. The album is bookended by two looks at "Agbekor Translations," a piece of indeterminate length that, according to Bob Blumenthal's excellent liner notes, is based on "six interlocking rhythms from the agbekor dance performed by the Ewe people of Ghana." It's a feel-good piece that, with its overlapping patterns and infectious rhythms, hints at Cuba, calypso, and NOLA-born sounds, many or all of which were influenced by African ideals in the first place. The title track, originally commissioned by the Sound Vision Orchestra, hearkens back to Ehrlich's time in St. Louis where he heard Arthur Brown read "A Trumpet In The Morning," the poem which inspired this piece. Here, Ehrlich's BAG buddy, saxophonist J.D. Parran, takes center stage, delivering a rousing version of the poem and delivering the goods on soprano and bass saxophones. Consonance, dissonance, formality and freedom converge, shake hands, cross paths and take turns coming to the fore during this twenty-three minute opus.
Ehrlich switches gears with the third piece on the program"Blues For Peace." This rock-driven number starts out as a straightforward vehicle but changes gears when it shifts to an unconventional 9/8 breakdown. Even with that turn, it remains the most easy-to-absorb piece on the album. The seven-movement "Rundowns And Turnbacks" begins with Ehrlich's one instrumental turn. His clarinet and Ron Horton's trumpet speak elegantly, separately and together, and set up what follows by planting the melodic seeds from which all else grows. Some of the sounds that surface are hip and grooving, other parts of the piece have a chamber-like sensibility, and some of the music falls squarely under the category of avant-garde; all of it, regardless of classification, speaks to the soul of its creator.
All of the material on this album, save for "M Variations (Melody For Madeleine)," was written between 2004 and 2012. Ehrlich originally recorded that piece with his Traveller's Tale quartet back in 1989 and he expanded it for the New York Composers Orchestra a few years later. In this large group version it functions as a showcase for a pianist and, in this case, that pianist is the one-and-only Uri Caine. Caine has always had a knack for working within and around different scenarios, weaving his persona into any given setting, and he does it again here. He's not the only soloist on this one, as bassist Drew Gress, tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker and Horton all get to shine, but he certainly leaves an impression when he's at the center of the action.
While Ehrlich established his reputation as a performing musician ages ago, he's never really received the attention he deserves as a composer. The ambitious A Trumpet In The Morning should help to rectify this matter.
Prelude: Agbekor Translations; A Trumpet In The Morning; Blues For Peace; Rundowns
And Turnbacks; My Variations (Melody For Madeleine); Postlude: Agbekor Translations.
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