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October 2008

Derrick Gardner and The Jazz Prophets
A Ride to the Other Side...
Owl Records

Despite the name, there are no prophecies here, nor is the “other” in the title a reference to futuristic or outside music. The inspiration for trumpeter Derrick Gardner’s band name is Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and like that once-stalwart ensemble, the Jazz Prophets are down and in the pocket. Like the Messengers, Gardner’s Prophets hew a hard-bop groove, but with more than a touch of what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Latin tinge.” And like the best editions of the Messengers, this band has been around a while, with the advantage of a cohesive frontline—Gardner’s trumpet and flugelhorn, Vincent Gardner’s trombone, Rob Dixon’s tenor sax—and relatively steady personnel for more than a decade.

Bright, robust, assertively swinging solos from the horns and the brawny piano of Anthony Wonsey would be enough to recommend this CD as a worthy straightahead jazz endeavor. But what makes it better than average is the high quality of the fresh material: eight originals from the band, five of them from the leader, as well as a ballad, the evocative “Be One” by Bill Lee from a Spike Lee film (School Daze), a welcome change from the usual, overdone standards most leaders settle for. Then there is the attention to ensemble detail, notably arrangements that make full use of the three-horn line for backgrounds, interludes and shout choruses as well as theme statements. So “Mac Daddy Grip” opens with bass (Rodney Whitaker) leading to a stop-time theme with staccato horns stepping right into a Blakey shuffle beat feel for the fervent solos, and “Bugabug” has a Horace Silver-ish Latin-funk vibe with interwoven horns on the theme.

Only Dixon’s two originals stray beyond the neo-Blue Note/Messengers/Silver feel: “God’s Gift” rides an open, spread rhythm like a Coltrane Quartet ballad, and “Of Infinity” uses hard-bop as a launching pad for a more blistering feel during the improvisations.

Originally published in October 2008
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