Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has released an album for the HighNote label every January since 2010. The first three—2010’s Men of Honor, 2011’s The Talented Mr. Pelt, and 2012’s Soul (reviewed here)—were made with his superlative band of saxophonist JD Allen, pianist Danny Grissett, the late bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. That group extended the abstract hard bop language of Miles Davis‘s 1960s quintet into the 21st Century, making some of the most unashamedly beautiful acoustic jazz around. Since disbanding that group, though, he’s been exploring his options, and making some really fascinating music in the process.
His first post-quintet release, 2013’s Water and Earth (reviewed here), featured electric bass, two keyboardists, and a three-part female chorus, and created a liquid, shifting sound that had elements of Weather Report, Sergio Mendes‘ Brasil 66, and DJ Krush. The follow-up, 2014’s Face Forward, Jeremy (reviewed here), had many of the same musicians and a few surprising extras (harp, cello), and brought more aggression to the sound, including some heavy funk recalling mid ’70s Eddie Henderson and some almost drum ‘n’ bass rhythms not far from what Tim Hagans and Bob Belden were doing on 1999’s Animation/Imagination.
His 2015 release, Tales, Musings and Other Reveries (buy it from Amazon), is a return to acoustic playing, but it’s every bit as adventurous as the two albums that preceded it. For the first time ever, he’s the sole horn player on the disc; with no saxophonist to take half the weight, he’s forcing himself to solo longer and harder. And the musicians he does have behind him are creating a more intense, surging sound than he’s had in some time. Pianist Simona Premazzi and bassist Ben Allison are playing in front of two drummers: Victor Lewis in the left speaker, and Billy Drummond in the right.
The album opens with an 11-minute version of Clifford Jordan‘s “Glass Bead Games,” from his 1974 Strata-East album of the same name. It starts out melodic, if somewhat chaotic given the avalanche of rhythm, but by the three-minute mark Pelt is cutting loose with high-pitched, screaming runs which suddenly drop out to make room for both drummers to blast him; this isn’t “trading fours” so much as a battle for supremacy. When Premazzi’s solo begins, Lewis and Drummond settle down a bit, but even their collective hi-hat work carries an undercurrent of coiled energy that builds and builds, but never quite erupts. And when they get their own spotlight turn, around six minutes in, it’s not the explosion you might expect; it’s a subtly aggressive duel, one player focusing on drums as the other goes at the cymbals, then the reverse—in some ways, it’s more reminiscent of the stoner-metal-gone-drill-team interaction of the Melvins‘ Dale Crover and Coady Willis than a jazz group.
The second track is a melancholy version of “Vonetta,” a Wayne Shorter composition recorded by the Miles Davis quintet, on Sorcerer. That’s followed by “Harlem Thoroughfare,” a Pelt original that begins with looplike, muted trumpet phrases atop electric piano, before the drums come in, the snare clattering like it might on a D’Angelo track. Pelt’s phrases are sharp and biting, with plenty of space for call-and-response between himself and Premazzi, who lurches in and out as the drums rattle and rumble.
On “Ruminations on Eric Garner,” the trumpeter engages in an extended, introspective dialogue with the drums, the skittering hi-hats and toms like distant thunder contrasting with his lines, which are lyrical, yet heartfelt and sparse. He also revisits one of his old pieces, “Nephthys,” originally recorded on 2008’s November (the debut album by the above-mentioned quintet), the drummers keeping it subtle as a suitable backing for his own highly romantic playing. The album concludes with an eight-minute blues, “The Old Soul of the Modern Day Wayfarer,” on which his sharp tone through a muted horn is balanced by drums that sound like they were recorded in an airplane hangar and fluid, but emphatic piano from Premazzi.
It’s at the point now where every Jeremy Pelt album is an event, a way to start the year having one’s faith in jazz’s emotional power and ability to continually surprise, while remaining essentially itself, confirmed (or restored, if need be). Whether you’re a longtime fan or coming to his work for the first time, Tales, Musings and Other Reveries is a must-hear.
Stream three tracks from the album: