Dr. John R. Lamkin, II has dedicated much of his career to bringing music to students and the community while recording little, so his many Mid-Atlantic fans will welcome Transitions, his first release in decades. His only prior album was Hot (Self-Produced, 1984), where the trumpeter wrote all but one composition. As Director of Bands and Coordinator of Music and Music Education at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he has exposed students to top jazz talent. Lamkin himself has played with Sonny Stitt, Frank Foster, Harvey Mason, Cyrus Chestnut, Charles Fambrough, and many other well-known artists.
Lamkin leads two groups: a "Sacred" Jazz Quintet performing hymns and spirituals, and this group, his "Favorites" Quintet. The name is based on a rotation of players, all Lamkin preferred musicians, and the leader's practice of calling out his favorite playlist tunes when performing. Lamkin is a traditionalist whose influences include Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Art Blakey. It is the inspiration of Blakey that comes through in Lamkin's commanding, rhythmic playing. Among his favorites are his son John R. Lamkin lll, who plays drums on four of the ten tracks, and his wife, singer Eartha Lamkin, who provides a stirring vocal on the Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. classic "God Bless the Child," the sole sextet track.
It's easy to hear an old New Orleans parade weaving through the opener, "All The Steps You Take (While Walking Through Your Brain)," one of seven Lamkin originals. Exemplifying the Transitions title is the pre-Civil War plantation spiritual, "Down by the Riverside," which Lamkin also performs with his Sacred Quintet. Here he gives the song an unexpected reading that feels like a hard bop/jump blues hybrid. The title track is an infectious, high-energy piece with terrific solos from Lamkin, pianist Bob Butta, and saxophonist Michael Hairston. The pace intensifies with "V.M.W," written by the trumpeter's brother Martin Lamkin who adds his blistering trombone solo. Drummer Philip Thomas makes his only appearance on Transitions count, with a blistering (albeit brief) solo. The collection closes out with "Swingin' at the Castle" (for the Baltimore jazz club Caton Castle) that shuffles and bumps along to a lightly swinging conclusion.
Regardless of who sits in on any track, the musicianship is flawless and the quintet members work together empathetically. Fans of 1950s and 60s hard bop, shuffle blues and revival swing will likely wish that John Lamkin didn't wait thirty-five years between albums. Part of Lamkin's vision is that music should be fun. Transitions fulfills that vision, and then some.
All the Steps You Take (While Walking Through Your Brain); Somumin3 (You Dig!); Da Market; Down by the Riverside; God Bless the Child (feat. Eartha Lamkin); Transitions; V.M.W.; 722; Get on up and Get on Down; Swingin' at the Castle.
John R Lamkin ll: trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Hairston: saxophone (1-3, 5-7, 10); Craig Alston: saxophones (4, 8, 9); Todd Simon: piano, electric piano (4, 5, 8, 9); Bob Butta: piano (1-3, 6, 7, 10); Michael Graham: bass (1-3, 6, 10); Kris Funn: bass, electric bass (4, 8, 9); Herman Burnie: bass (5); Jesse Moody: drums (1-3, 6, 10); Martin Lamkin: trombone (5, 7); John R. Lamkin lll: drums (4, 5, 8, 9); Philip Thomas: drums (7); Eartha Lamkin: vocals (5).