Making the connection between Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and hip-hop/R&B seems like a better exercised idea on paper than on the bandstand. But trumpeter and singer Abram Wilson's splendid debut, Jazz Warrior (Dune), offers a persuasive case for the unlikely fusion.
Based in London but bred in New Orleans, Wilson plays the trumpet in true Crescent City style. With a stout tone, Wilson spits out swaggering riffs, melodies and improvisations, using many of his hometown's vocalized nuances such as growls, slurs and wheezes. His all-acoustic band stomps out modern grooves that suggest both Preservation Hall and London's forward-looking Jazz Cafe. "My goal was to create a groove-oriented record but maintain the swing element," Wilson says. "A lot of rhythms stem from Herlin Riley: I used that New Orleans-type of drumming, while channeling hip-hop in the simplicity of the kick drum rhythm and rim-shot."
Songs like the thrilling "Pedal Herlin," the shuffling "Monk" and the churchy "The Truth" focus on Wilson's conversational trumpeting and his engaging interplay with his responsive ensemble, while cuts like the slinky "Supernatural," the idyllic "You Wouldn't Know" and his suspenseful makeover of Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" showcase his rich baritone croon, which is steeped in contemporary R&B but can become as rhythmically animated as Satchmo's.
Wilson started his formal musical education at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and concluded it with a master's degree in jazz composition with a specialty in classical trumpet from Eastman Conservatory. So why did Wilson move all the way to London to record an album that sounds so thoroughly American? "I read about and saw documentaries on [American jazz] musicians that traveled to Europe who were revered like Jimi Hendrix," he says. "Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and Quincy Jones came here and found a lot of success. I wanted to get my music into an international scene. I woke up one morning and said, 'I want to go to Europe.'"
"The Europeans are a little more enthusiastic," Wilson says, comparing European and American audiences. "When I got out here, I immediately noticed the positive response. I think that has something to do with me being from New Orleans; I have that city's spirit in everything I play."