Jazz styles are known as much by the way that they change the sounds of instruments as by the harmonic transformations they propose. The trumpet tones of the hard-bop ’50s — burnished by Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan et al — set a standard for high-octane lyricism. But along came Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Alan Shorter and Lester Bowie, sounding fractured, fragile and hysterical. Those avant-garde guerillas combined Dizzy’s brashness and Miles’ limit-stretching with huge doses of spiritual chutzpah. Now rising out of that mayhem is new-breed soloist Roy Campbell, an encyclopedic thinker who plays trumpet, flügelhorn and pocket trumpet (the instrument immortalized by Cherry) with a sound that’s rough, nervy and vulnerable.
On Campbell’s new CD featuring his Pyramid Trio (with William Parker, bass, and Hamid Drake, drums), the trumpet isn’t so much the lead voice-with-backup as it is one of three sonic facets. Though Campbell turns in outstanding solos, the esprit de corps is one of extreme co-dependency. This interactive stew has had a while to simmer, since Campbell met Parker in 1978 and Parker began rhythmning with Drake in 1994, in Peter Brötzmann’s electrifying Die Like a Dog quartet. (Check out the Brötzmann Dog’s inspired, Albert Ayleresque From Valley to Valley on Eremite, featuring Campbell’s brass deluge of more ideas per second than seems humanly possible.) Though Ethnic Stew finds Campbell and company playing within the limits of sanity, their uncanny melding of rhythm and tones is sexy and infectious.
On “Malcolm, Martin and Mandela” and “Imhotep,” the trio creates that friendliest of spaces, the relaxed groove, with each man stretching out while not forgetting the wild roads he traveled to get here. That feeling permeates the title track, “Ethnic Stew and Brew,” which is high-minded and celebratory all at once. But what’s there to celebrate? Just the African roots of jazz, the worldwide joy of improvisation, the heritage of polyrhythmic, eroto-harmonic thinking. Even on “Heavenly Ascending,” a pensive ode to the spirit, the mood “rises.”
Taking up where their ’60s and ’70s forbears — the New York Contemporary Five and the Art Ensemble of Chicago — left off, Campbell, Parker and Drake make sure that jazz is always the sound of surprise.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.