Trumpeter and flugelhornist Terell Stafford strikes a delicate balance between repertory and original material on his fourth set as a leader, and his debut for MaxJazz. He's assembled an outstanding band, recruited one of jazz's best session pianists in Mulgrew Miller and has picked, for the most part, lesser-known tunes to cover. Stafford also rotates musicians and varies the ensemble's size. The result is a generally good date that might have been a great one except for a couple of selections, such as the passive rendition of "Blame It on My Youth" and "Kumbaya," a piece that runs about two minutes longer than necessary.
However, these are minor quibbles. Much of New Beginnings is excellent. "Soft Winds," an engaging reworking of a Fletcher Henderson composition, gets the disc started in a ringing, declarative manner thanks to brisk solos by alto saxophonist Jesse Davis, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and Stafford on trumpet. "He Knows How Much You Can Bear" is credibly arranged and elegantly delivered, another tingling example of expertly adapting gospel and spirituals to a jazz context. The "New Beginnings Suite" contains two fine songs in "Selah" and "Berda's Bounce"-and one not so good one in "Le Maurier"-but Stafford and his mates smoothly link all three with aggressive, animated solos, accompaniment and unison sections. Stafford's finest playing comes on Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips." Here, he delivers a rousing melodic reading and moving solo. Overall, New Beginnings stands as a highly worthwhile outing.