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April 2007

Russell Gunn
Russell Gunn Plays Miles
HighNote Records

It is bold, even potentially off-putting, for a trumpeter to cover Miles Davis’ repertoire—perhaps analogous to Branford Marsalis covering A Love Supreme. And it’s not clear that jazz history needs more versions of “Blue in Green” and “All Blues.” But if anyone can come up with a justification, it’s Russell Gunn and his “Elektrik Butterfly” band: Orrin Evans on piano and keyboards, Mark Kelley on bass, Montez Coleman on drums and Kahlil Kwame Bell on percussion. The aesthetic here is electric jazz-funk, even on the Kind of Blue selections mentioned above, although Gunn leads the set with two later-period pieces, “Tutu” and “Bitches Brew.” From the gate, Evans emerges as the strongest voice as he commands an arsenal of acoustic piano, Wurlitzer and other retro-sounding keyboards. Bell intervenes tastily on percussion—hear the triangle on “Blue in Green” and the cowbell entrance on the surprisingly fast-paced “Eighty-One.” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” set to a bone-crushing go-go beat, makes something genuinely new of an overworked tune and features Evans at his best. Gunn plays with characteristic verve, routing his horn through various echo and flanging effects. The atmosphere isn’t far afield from his hip-hop-oriented Ethno-musicology recordings—at least until his own greasy shuffle, “New New Blues,” brings the album to an end. In lesser hands, some of these arrangements would be decidedly humdrum, but Gunn and his crew never fail to generate interest as improvisers. It is this, more than the Miles Davis theme, that makes the date worthwhile.

Originally published in April 2007
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