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Terell Stafford: This Side of Strayhorn

Dan McClenaghan By

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Some music just stands out from the crowd, and certainly Billy Strayhorn's tunes do exactly that. What would the great composer/bandleader Duke Ellington have been without his collaborator? He still certainly would have been considered one of the America's greatest artists, but it's hard to imagine an Ellington "greatest hits" offering—if one could be achieved, considering the Duke's immense output—without Strayhorn's gorgeous and familiar "Lush Life," "Take the 'A' Train," "Lotus Blossom," or "Chelsea Bridge."

This Side of Strayhorn is trumpeter Terell Stafford's heartfelt tribute to Ellington's indispensable partner. The set is made up of a batch of familiar Strayhorn music, as well as some lesser-known gems that shine brightly in the hands of Stafford and his marvelous ensemble. Stafford's working quintet turns in a well-lubricated effort, burning down the house on the opener, "Raincheck." Stafford and saxophonist Tim Warfield trade stretched-out solos throughout, with the leader giving a sizzle to the melody, the sax relaxing into a snappy groove, on the bright and upbeat melody that rides high inside the rhythm section's fluid momentum, until pianist Bruce Barth—who arranged all the tunes—slips into a crisp Ellingtonian piano solo.

"Smada" has a more relaxed feeling. Warfield's solo is warm and laidback, a no-worries-in-the-world affair in front of a saucy backdrop. Then Stafford takes his turn, gliding in with a gorgeous tone and a velvet flow of notes. "Lush Life," one of Strayhorn's most distinctive and best-loved tunes, unfolds in a patient way, in the loveliest fashion, a familiar forlorn lament that sounds timeless in this spare arrangement. "Multiclored Blue" recalls 1940s Ellington, with Stafford blowing jungle cat sassy with his mute, while Warfield goes down low, as cool as can be, the way Ellington's star tenor man Ben Webster always did. "Lana Turner," a lesser-known composition, has a high class dynamic with a bit of slinkiness slipped in, and a jewel of a Warfield sax solo that is smoldering and a little gruff.

This Side of Strayhorn rides out on the upbeat and tangy "Johnny Come Lately," a swinging close to an excellent tribute one of America's finest tunesmiths.

Track Listing: Raincheck; Smada; My Little Brown Book; Lush Life; Multicolored Hue; U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group); Lana Turner; Day Dream; Johnny Come Lately.

Personnel: Terell Stafford: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tim Warfield: tenor and soprano saxophones; Bruce Barth: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Dana Hall: drums.

Title: This Side of Strayhorn | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: MAXJAZZ

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