Ron Horton's sophomore release as a leader, the trumpeter/fluegelhornist continues his striking, impressionistic approach of synthesizing the free-ranging, out sounds of modernity with the softer, melodic palette of chamber music, a vision he unveiled to the jazz world's delight on 1999's Genius Envy
Horton's racked up some excellent experience over the course of his nearly 30-year career, playing with legendary composer/pianist Andrew Hill, as well as in the Jazz Composers Collective, a vital New York organization that also boasts Mr. Medicine Wheel himself, bassist Ben Allison, and pianist Frank Kimbrough, both of whom starred on Genius Envy
and return to shine on Subtextures
; also on board is drummer Matt Wilson, a vocal fan of Horton's '99 debut.
From the fugal flourishes that imbue the album, not to mention the lofty, horizon-scanning lines of his horn, one is readily reminded of Miles Davis and Chet Baker, two of Horton's admitted muses especially Miles, from whom Horton has gained a wonderful, Birth of the Cool
-style bouquet of tonal colors. This technique is plied to breathtaking effect on tracks like the title cut and the bittersweet "Ruminations," as well as on ambitious, delicate versions of Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivium" and Chopin's "Etude."
But Horton isn't afraid to rock out: the bop standout "Malaby," an inspired tribute to saxophonist Tony Malaby, blasts off with an impossibly complex, dizzy chart before dropping into a solo passage by Allison, which is then overtaken by a growling, swishing conversation between Horton and Wilson, only to collapse into Kimbrough's desolate ponderings before exploding back into the tune's initial riffing. Another winner, the stuttering improv "Mutability," is highlighted by Horton's aggressive, bluesy blasts and Wilson's machine-gun press rolls.
Like that of Malaby, Andrew Hill, Miles, and Herbie Nichols (Horton, Kimbrough, and Allison are sometime members of the Herbie Nichols Project, formed to play unpublished Nichols tunes), the complicated but frequently melodic music on Subtextures
blurs the boundaries between the straight-ahead and the avant-garde. And it does so with confident facility. Recommended.