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Bob Wagner: Toot Suite

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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There have been many composers on both sides of the classical-jazz continuum who have attempted to blend those genres. Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Darius Milhaud, Duke Ellington, Lalo Schifrin, Jorge Calandrelli, and others have explored the parallels and differences.

In 1980, French jazz pianist/composer, Claude Bolling composed "Toot Suite" for the great French trumpet virtuoso, Maurice Andre. The suite, composed of 6 segments of varied textures, is so demanding technically that it has been performed by or recorded only by a handful of trumpet virtuosos including Andre, Arturo Sandoval, Eric Aubier, John Holt, and Joe Burgstaller. It is an Ironman undertaking, requiring envelope-pushing technique, horn changes, extreme range requirements, and Herculean endurance.

Trumpeter Bob Wagner is well-known around the Philadelphia music scene. Here he brilliantly navigates the daunting gauntlet in a bravura performance. Wagner demos it all—chops, sound, range and uses all with flair. The recording has the fervor, energy and artistry comparable to those elite trumpeters cited above. And, it's a Helluva fun recording, too(t)!

The "Allegre" kicks things off with a jaunty fugue with the sharp rhythm section chasing Wagner's Road Runner lead. The gloriously dramatic "Mystique" has Wagner beautifully lyrical (channeling Maurice André) and soaring over an arpeggiated Hilliard bed (who later offers a Dave Brubeck-ish ride) and rhythm. It's an album highlight. "Rag-Polka" is a swaggy flugelhorn-delivered cakewalk which ghosts a simpler time. "Marche" is a toy trumpet romp that bibbidi-bobbidi-boos and ultimately breaks into bluesy piano-rhythm interludes and subsequent martial calls and responses. The moody "Vesperale" has Hilliard's Chopin-esque entrée setting the stage for Wagner's lush, lachrymose flugel. The piccolo-trumpet-delivered "Spirituelle" climaxes and closes out the suite. Throughout the segments, Wagner's technical and expressive artistry are at the forefront and pianist Peter Hilliard, bassist Ranaan Meyer and drummer Sean J. Kennedy support him perfectly.

In the interest of fairness, understand that this recording compositionally is a blending of fine classical writing for various trumpets with highly stylized piano and rhythm accompaniment. There is no extended trumpet improvisation. That considered, Toot Suite is hands-down a superb performance that will, upon sampling, offer die-hard jazz and classical music aficionados a tasty brass buffet. It will also bring well-deserved notoriety for Wagner outside Philly and inclusion in that august group above.

From here on in, he may no longer be a "Lone Wagner." Toot on, Kemo Sabe.

Track Listing: Allegre; Mystique; Rag Polka; Marche; Vesperale; Spirituelle.

Personnel: Bob Wagner: trumpet, piccolo trumpet. flugelhorn; Peter Hilliard: piano; Ranaan Meyer: bass; Sean J. Kennedy: drums.

Title: Toot Suite | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Jump City Music


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