It's Krunch Time
Thirsty Ear THI 57107.2

In jazz a new form of purported fellow traveler has emerged. Fellow travelers were folks persecuted by venomous right wingers like Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s not because they were so-called Reds — a dubious proposition at best — but because they moved in the same circles as suspected communists.

For this association, rather than ideology, many people suddenly had to struggle for work. It appears that jazz's neo-con cabal would like to practice their own brand of repressive McCarthyism on musicians who move in certain circles.

Take Roy Campbell, for instance. The New York-based trumpeter/flugelhornist has long been confined to the so-called avant garde ghetto because of his association with such certified free players as bassist/organizer William Parker, with whom he's shared the leadership of a couple of bands.

In truth, Campbell's playing, like that of his Chicago counterpart Malachi Thompson, shines in that narrow area of freebop which takes its shape as much from hard bop as energy music. It's certainly not radical when compared to the sound of out-and-out brass explorers like Berlin's Alex Dörner or Vermont's Bill Dixon.

Ignoring labels, Campbell continues to turn out fine work on his own and with others, no matter their stylistic leanings. Perhaps, however, this capable session will raise his profile higher.

Two of his compatriots here — vibist Khan Jamal and bassist Wilber Morris — occupy the same avant garde fellow traveler limbo as Campbell. Conversely, drummer Guillermo E. Brown, is younger, is making his name with David S. Ware's quartet, and mostly sticks to the background anyways.

More to the point, if anyone deserves kudos, its Philadelphia-based Khan, who too is only deemed an avant gardist by fraternization. Another grievously underrecorded freebopper, he long ago made his unique low-key accommodation with the modal vibes styles of Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson.

Using little vibrato and concentrating on the metallic tones of his instrument, Jamal is unsurprisingly featured most prominently on "Khanducting". Anything but abstract, his solos here flash by with a speed too swift for echoing reverberation, and are often blended with lascivious smeared notes from Campbell's trumpet.

This duetting continues on "The Opening", which despite its title is the penultimate track of the disc. Appearing to want to resolve itself as a familiar ballad, the tune instead seems to circle around itself with the trumpeter double timing his lines and the vibist creating counter melodies.

Perhaps the three veteran's clearest intentions appear on "Ode for Mr. D.C.", honoring another long time inside-outside player, the late drummer Denis Charles. No dirge, the tune is instead a lively celebration of life that utilizes the sort of West Indian lilt at which Charles excelled. It allows a muted Campbell to expose his linkage to protobopper Lee Morgan at length, gives space to Khan for a speedy 1960s Blue Note style solo and is held together by a strong, unassuming, repeated bass pattern from Morris.

Overall, what's been created here is a disc of strong, modern music, with sounds that are only tenuously linked to the so-called avant garde. Heck, the band even does a version of "Bemsha Swing" by Thelonious Monk, who appears to have posthumously passed the neo-con loyalty oath to earn iconic status.

Of course, the dictatorial types who realize the talents of Campbell and those of his sidemen are anything but frightening, may then turn against him for his socio-political views. "New Groes (sic) for the New Millennium", for instance, says Campbell, is for people "who refute history … and act like nothing happened before they came on the scene", while his solo, sour-note-studded recasting of "Star Spangled Banner" is dedicated to "president select (sic) George Bush".

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Tenderness of Spring 2. It's Krunch Time 3. Bemsha Swing 4. New Groes for the New Millennium 5. Ode for Mr. DC 6. Khanducting 7. The Opening 8. Star Spangled Banner

Personnel: Roy Campbell (trumpet); Khan Jamal (vibes); Wilber Morris (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums)