Speaking of horns…

Bill Warfield tells his big band ‘Trumpet Story’ with Randy Brecker

Bill Warfield Big Band’s 2014 album with Randy Brecker highlights what the trumpets can do, and oh what they can do under these two legendary jazz artists. CREDIT: Carol Heft and Linda Ganus

Review first appeared in Examiner April 13, 2015.

Like many jazz artists, big band leader Bill Warfield chose to dedicate his July 8, 2014 album, Trumpet Story, to the musicians who inspired and influenced him the most. Included among them is the featured guest star, Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Besides trumpeters in arms, Brecker and Warfield are friends from way back. The Baltimore-born Warfield became both a working jazz musician who’s played with all the greats of his time — Ornette Coleman, Mel Lewis, Sonny Stitt, Mel Tormé, recorded 10 outstanding albums as a bandleader, and achieved commissions for the 1992 Olympics in Spain, the Berlin Radio Orchestra, and the US Air Force “Airmen Of Note,” as well as an acclaimed music educator at Bethlehem, PA’s Lehigh University, where he’s now the director of jazz studies.

Most pertinent to this recent album, Warfield continues to create and arrange bold music for the genre, as the founder and director of the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra, the New York Jazz Octet, and the Lehigh Valley Jazz Repertory Orchestra.

It was at a Lehigh Valley Jazz Repertory Orchestra concert — his first — that he and Brecker co-signed on a remake of Miles Davis/Gil Evans’ monumental piece, “Sketches Of Spain.”

“He and I split the trumpet part on that concert, and thus started our relationship,” Warfield said in a DL Media press release.

The pleasure was all Brecker’s. “Bill Warfield has been a friend, and a favorite of mine for many years, and on this CD, dedicated to trumpeters (and composers) who have influenced him, he proudly presents some of his best writing in a long while,” Brecker expressed, also in the release. “Challenging, original, and very listenable at the same time. Likewise, the band is just first rate, and filled with guys I ‘came up’ with, along with a host of younger players.”

Warfield enlists his friend Brecker on the bulk of these tunes, fully taking advantage of the trumpeter’s Blood, Sweat & Tears swagger in heartland pieces like the show-stopping, “When Janie Takes The Stand.” Warfield arranges and/or composes all of the 10 horn hits. When he’s not composing the songs, he’s lovingly bringing out the beefy beats from Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like A Child,” Brecker’s “Sponge,” or Joe Zawinul’s “Pharoah’s Dance.”

Mixed in with the elaborate covers and originals are the heartfelt moments of introspection, as on “Carol,” written for his wife — who is also a visual artist.

The amazing aspect of Bill Warfield’s Trumpet Story is its breadth of knowledge and emotion. He and his big band, complete with horn, woodwinds, and rhythm sections, know when to let loose in show-stopping tunes meant strictly for the dance floor — all bravado and technical wizardry — and when to scale back (for a big band) and play down to an intimate level, as if Warfield were romancing a room of one.

Throughout, they never lose the vitality of the melody, the hierarchical glory of the kings of horns, and the suave, sensual mechanics only true veterans of the game can elicit from pipe and metal: the sweeping luxury of Hancock’s “Speak Like A Child,” barely a whisper of Mike Eckroth’s piano strokes, Warfield’s heightening sense of danger, a Twilight Zone in the avant-garde score of “In The Land Of Chad And Barbie,” and then back to big band basics — Brecker style — in “Theme For Malcolm” by Donald Brown, artfully tinseled by Warfield’s arrangements and soloists curving around strong, memorable hooks almost wanting to break out into fully realized Broadway belters.

Bill Warfield’s big band, and friend, Randy Brecker, have never sounded better.

Jazz Medium©: Feeling the music, one review at a time.

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