In his infinite wisdom, drummer Rich Thompson brought in Terell Stafford for this recording session. Stafford has slowly but surely become one of the preeminent jazz trumpeters, stealing the show as a sideman on a number of CDs, not to mention his own most recent release, This Side of Strayhorn. Thompson also showed great care in formulating the song list for Less is More, mixing originals and standards with far-from-overdone tunes by Kenny Dorham, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Henderson. The drummer is perhaps best known (besides his longtime work as an educator) for driving the Count Basie Orchestra in the '90's, but here he once again reveals his nuanced and responsive approach in a small group setting, this time with Stafford, pianist/organist Gary Versace, bassist Jeff Campbell, and tenor saxophonist Doug Stone on two tracks.
Dorham's "Lotus Blossom" fittingly finds Stafford playing the classic theme and launching into the first solo, both powerful and lyrical. Versace's piano prances lightly through a multi-colored statement, before a break for Thompson to comment pre-reprise. The leader's ongoing support is spot-on and salutary. The title of Campbell's "Hoot Gibson" may or may not refer to either the rodeo star/actor or the NASA astronaut. (Both Campbell and Thompson are on the faculty of the Univ. of Rochester's Eastman School of Music.) The composer's funky bass intro is eventually joined by Versace's sly organ treatment of the catchy, cleverly convoluted theme. Stafford and Versace harmonize on a reprise prior to the trumpeter's winning plunger-mute solo. Versace's excursion is typical of him, utilizing distinctive Wurlitzer-like tonalities on his B3 to great effect. This track drips with genuine, undiluted down-home soul. Stone's tenor gives a sensual reading of "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," and his pungent solo has the markings of the lyricism of Stan Getz. Campbell and Thompson create and maintain an insinuating rhythmic backdrop for the duration of this trio outing.
Stafford's muted trumpet carries the winsome melody of Tom Garling's "Camping Out," and then expands upon it with depth of feeling and elegance of line. Versace's comping and own improv are fresh and attention-grabbing, and Thompson's subtle support is both graceful and nourishing. This piece was the title tune of guitarist Garling's 2004 album that featured Versace, Campbell, and Thompson. The drummer's "Less is More" begins in Ahmad Jamal mode, with a Vernel Fournier shuffle groove from Thompson and Versace's sparse piano. Stafford's mellow flugelhorn outlines the warmhearted theme and produces a glowing solo replete with winding runs and ecstatic outbursts. Versace exhibits an artful conception and ringing sound in his turn, which is followed by a forceful declaration by Campbell that brings us full circle to Stafford and that endearing melody. The head of Coleman's bluesy, Monk-like "Invisible" (the first tune on Ornette's 1958 debut LP Something Else!!!!) is repeated no less than three times until Versace tackles its intriguing contours in a cunning piano solo that unquestionably has Thelonious in mind. Stafford's offering rises to great heights, not necessarily tonally but in its robust, uninhibited expressiveness. Thompson spurs him along aggressively, and provides his own energetic perspective. The quartet can't resist revisiting that boppish theme more than once in closing.
"It's So Easy to Remember" is a short feature for Stafford's lustrous horn, with Versace's delicate accompaniment, Thompson's tasteful brushwork, and Campbell's pinpoint notations. Except for his concise, poignant coda, Stafford sticks to the melody to lasting effect. Shorter's tricky "This is for Albert," which he first recorded with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, has surprising harmonic and melodic twists and turns that supply ample ground for Stafford's fertile imagination, his solo lucidly constructed and compelling. Versace's organ diversion percolates on a low flame with a generous helping of fresh phrasings. "I've Never Been in Love Before" is warmly articulated by Stafford, whose rich tone and fluid lyricism here recall Clifford Brown to a certain extent. His solo conception, however, is all Terell in its blues-inflected, unrestrained rambunctiousness. Versace wisely takes a more refined course in comparison, but telling an engaging story nonetheless. Campbell and Thompson have a delightful conversation preceding Stafford's return. Stone outlines Henderson's memorable "Step Lightly" above Versace's organ shadings. His probing tenor solo borrows unabashedly from Henderson's characteristic inflections and phraseology, and Versace succeeds him in coy and crafty fashion, in accord with the tune's title.