4 1/2 - STARS
One of the joys attached to reviewing music is the exposure to artists who otherwise might not show up on the radar. For every Pat Metheny there are a hundred highly-creative, lower-profile, hugely-talented guitarists plucking the strings; for every Brad Mehldau plying the trade ten dozen marvelous, relatively unknown pianists show up in the mailbox or the downloads. And for every Ralph Alessi out there blowing their horns, you will—with just a bit of digging—encounter scores of trumpeters riding below the level of national or international recognition, doing their best to take the music to newer levels, clicks and popularity contests be damned. Indeed, when it comes down to it, the number of jazz artists who fall into the category of 'deserving wider recognition' seems endless.
Trumpeter Brad Goode, on the evidence of the excellent The Unknown, is one of those deserving players.
This skillfully conceived album sets a modern tone from the opener, "Decathexis," straight through to the closer, "Shiprock," via seven engaging Goode originals and three surprising cover choices. Continuity of sound and approach is—as always—a big plus when crafting a collection of tunes. The Unknown has this. It is a quartet outing, a rhythm section and Goode's trumpet that sounds, on an initial spin, like a pared-down, Miles Davis outing from the 1980s, with Jeff Jenkins electric keyboards sparkling in the creation—in league with bassist Seth Lewis and drummer Paa Kow—some deep grooves.
"Pain," is a tune written by Goode in commemoration of the passing of trombonist Curtis Fuller. The sound is expansive. The production is lush, considering the minimalist lineup. Post-production sweetening is probably at play, with trumpet overdubs and enhanced key work. The atmosphere here and throughout is terrific—luminous in a subtle way, a production mode that does not call attention to itself yet elevates the music marvelously.
The covers included here might seem odd choices, for those not familiar with some of the songs featured on Creed Taylor's CTI Recordings, like George Benson's 1972 album, White Rabbit, which took its title tune from the Jefferson Airplane songbook and also included the Mama and the Papas' "California Dreamin.'" This was a pair of pop tunes regarded by many as not worthy of a jazz rendition, but the album—with these inclusions —some might say because of them— was hugely successful, as was guitarist Wes Montgomery's (perhaps for the same reason) A Day In the Life (CTI, 1967), that included the Beatles' title tune as well as "Eleanor Rigby." So what are Goode's cover choices? "The Windmills of Your Mind," a Michel Legrand composition covered by Dusty Springfield and Jose Felciano. Goode and company give the song a smooth flow, with Goode's wistful trumpet enmeshed in a gorgeous arrangement. Too sweet for a jazz album. Hardly.
Other covers: a marching, fanfare-ish take on Caetano Veloso's "Joia," and Janis Ian's 1975 pop hit "At Seventeen." This latter tune features Goode's achingly beautiful muted horn, telling the story of a youthful outsider looking in at the more socially adept and ostensibly more fortunate among us. The spare, slightly sweetened arrangement works perfectly.
"Shiprock" closes things out. New Mexico's Shiprock is a desert rock formation considered sacred by the Navajo people. In their folklore, human beings descended to Earth from the sky here, and now we have a celebratory soundtrack to the event, to close out an inspired album that plays out as a nicely conceived and wonderfully executed musical vision of Brad Goode.