Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roy Campbell: Pushing Jazz Forward

Roy Campbell (trumpet, b. 1952)
The Nu Band (group; formed 2001)

Mark Whitcage (alto sax)
Joe Fonda (bass)
Lou Grassi (drums)

Roy Campbell is considered one of the leading lights in avant garde today. His trumpet playing can be compared to Miles Davis electric era but Roy's concepts are a bit more in the realm of Sun Ra, John Zorn and Don Cherry the legendary "Dark One" himself. Hailing from Los Angeles, Roy Campbell originally studied under another great trumpeter, Kenny Dorham. He spent a number of years as a sessions man and with a few makeshift groups before finally settling into his own first solo album, New Kingdom (Delmark, 1999).

He has since recorded seven albums under his own name. The most popular and critically acclaimed, Ethnic Stew and Brew (Delmark, 2001) felt like an anvil hitting the music scene. Everyone knew his talent but Ethnic Stew and Brew just solidifies the importance of this new talent. The session blends African, Middle-Eastern and avant garde themes into a subtle but highly enjoyable affair. Images of Miles' Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and even Ahgharta come to into the framework but that's okay because this is a session that you really have to experience almost by mistake to feel the intensity. I stumbled across it a few years ago in a record store and was completely blown away by Campbell's playing. I bought the album on the spot. Roy Campbell has worked with a wide variety of musicians including, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake and saxophonist troubadour, Peter Brotzmann in his Die Like A Dog quartet. One of Roy Campbell's own projects which is receiving critically raves of late is The Nu Band.

The Nu Band features Campbell on trumpet along with Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) and Mark Whitecage (sax). This is a quartet which at first listen might be just a wall of sound but once you settle into the rhythm you are fully connected to the melody and the method to the madness. The Nu Band are a group that have been together for technically just a short time but have managed to somehow sound like its been twenty years. The interplay is fascinating to experience. Each member takes the lead on the appropriate piece and the rest of the members merge around the one theme. All of their four albums are live recordings which is probably the best way to hear this type of a group--in an improvised setting.

I haven't really decided on my favourite album by the band but Live At The Bop Shop (Clean Feed) and Lower Eastside Blues (Porter Records) are both worth checking out. They are available online if you're interested. But either way, Roy Campbell is thinking about the future and bring concepts that are making everyone thinking differently. Get on board...

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