Miles Beyond: The New Sounds Of Trumpet
by Lars Gotrich
No, the headline isn’t just a clever pun. Like John Coltrane and the saxophone, Miles Davis’ figure looms large over our ideas about jazz trumpet. The dulcet tones of Kind of Blue and the spaced-out blats of Bitches Brew (now available in beer form, by the way) still permeate the bells of trumpeters everywhere, and with good reason.
But there are hidden secrets in the horn, and a host of musical linguists who uncover new languages for an instrument imbued with a bop history. In fact, the Festival of New Trumpet Music brings out many of these sound explorers each year. Here are five trumpeters who reach deep inside the bells of their horns.
Of course, these are just a few examples — we didn’t even get started on cornet. Tell us some of your favorite practitioners of “new trumpet” in the comments section below.
Forbes Graham – Essences
While Miles Davis’ shadow does figure into any jazz past The Birth of Cool, Forbes Graham doesn’t ignore it. He embraces the blue note and turns it “magenta haze.” The Boston-area improviser sputters and attacks the trumpet with shark-attack notes before letting out a haunting whistled horn like a meditative Don Cherry, or a gruffled stutter like a duck being strangled. Essences, then, plays well with the musical-yet-noisy percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, who knows the history of his instruments but also understands where they should go.
Peter Evans Quartet – Live in Lisbon (CF 173)
Solo, Peter Evans is hypnotic. Without the aid of looping pedals or even a microphone, he layers furious notes in a cloud and threatens a lightning strike. In groups, Evans expands the same tactic throughout the band and many approaches to jazz. On an otherwise jumpy Live in Lisbon, “Palimpsest” is a ballad viewed from the inside-out, expanding outward without exploding. It’s subtle, and it only represents a segment of Evans’ talent.
Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
While most of the trumpeters listed here develop much of their musical vocabulary in a solo setting, the California-based Kris Tiner feeds off the energy of others with his compositions. The Empty Cage Quartet, in particular, is a thoroughly modern and multifaceted jazz ensemble that stakes out a singular voice. Listen to to the funky “Gravity: Section 4” and notice Tiner’s seemingly off-centered timing and his spiraling call and response with saxophonist Jason Mears. For Tiner, his trumpet technique is part of the bigger piece, a function to the whole.
Nate WooleyAlbum: Trumpet/Amplifier
Nate Wooley doesn’t play trumpet as much he plays on the trumpet. Through valve clicks, intense breathing and anything-but-notes sound, Wooley improvises on the physical object that is the trumpet. In turn, a new language gurgles forth, sometimes hurled through a volume pedal and controlled feedback as heard on Side B of the Trumpet/Amplifier LP. His approach makes Wooley bedfellows with lowercase musicians like David Grubbs, as well as free-improvisers like guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Reuben Radding in Crackleknob. But he always remains on the fringe of it all.
Toshinori Kondo – Silent Melodies
If the names Peter Brotzmann, John Zorn and Fred Frith mean anything to you, then you might expect a solo release from Toshinori Kondo to claw through the speakers. While Kondo has done his fair share of extreme improv with those musicians and others, the Japanese trumpeter turns his ears toward ambient expression in a solo context. Kondo’s recordings are lush, expansive soundscapes more in touch with ambient legend Harold Budd than Bill Dixon’s spaced-out improv, but are still rooted in jazz improvisation. After all, every track on Silent Melodies was performed in one take, no overdubs, just pure thought funneling out of delay pedals.