Sunday, February 2, 2020

'Can You Imagine?' is John Bailey's tribute to modern trumpet pioneer Dizzy Gillespie

John Bailey has his band musically canvassing for DG.
The half-serious run that Dizzy Gillespie made for the U.S. presidency many decades ago gets a memorial tribute as John Bailey tosses the Dizzy beret into the 2020 ring with "Can You Imagine?" (Freedom Road Records).

The rhetorical question in the title asks the listener to fantasize about the the affable bebop pioneer in the Oval Office. Bailey, a veteran trumpeter with a host of eminent collaborations in his c.v., composed the centerpiece tribute, "President Gillespie Suite."

Bailey is outstanding on both muted in the first section, "The Humanitarian Candidate," and with the open horn he turns to later. Trombonist Earl McIntyre, employing the plunger mute, sits in during the second movement, "Road to the Blues House," which is typical of the set's nifty arrangements and the way they always give extra polish to the solos.

The band, with a rock-solid rhythm section of Edsel Gomez, piano; Mike Karn, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums, manages tempo shifts fluently, giving a special freshness to Lewis' "The Touch of Her Vibe." Gomez, never excessively decorative,  takes a pretty solo on "Ballad from Oro," a piece by Chico O'Farrill, one of the Latin-jazz masters whom Bailey honors. Alto flutist Janet Axelrod lends an air of twilight mystery to another Latin ballad, the mellow "Valsa Rancho."

Of the other members of the "Can You Imagine?" core group, saxophonist Stacy Dillard contributes a steady ensemble voice in the lively set-opener, "Pebbles in the Pocket," and several solos elsewhere. The adept front line is filled out by trombonist Stafford Hunter.

The set ends imaginatively with a familiar tune that also serves the album's purpose, "People," with Bailey settling fruitfully into the trurmpet's low register, with only the adaptable Gomez as duo partner. If this release on Bailey's own label has to be thought of in a political context, keep in mind that "Can You Imagine?" doesn't force an agenda on anyone beyond respect for the human community.

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