May 1999

Russell Gunn

Trumpeter Russell Gunn aims to be true to himself. “I always had a bad feeling about not taking things that influence you and incorporating them into your music,” says the 27-year-old musician.

His Atlantic Records debut, Ethnomusicology, Volume 1, is an intense session marked by catchy hip-hop and funk beats, DJ sampling, R&B, house music, New Orleans tinges, and, best of all, his fine trumpet playing. “The album’s called Ethnomusicology because I use all these different rhythms from traditionally black forms of music, and we swing, too.”

His cohesive group sound was strengthened by playing together in live performance for three years before making this album. Some tracks, like “Sybil's Blues,” are terrifically danceable. Others are head-nodding listens. Gunn wrote most of the songs to foster the splendid team interaction from long-time mates Greg Tardy (tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet) and James Hurt (piano, Fender Rhodes, organ), and Bruce Williams (alto sax, E-flat clarinet), Andre Heyward (trombone), Rodney Jordan (bass), Woody Williams (drums), Khalil Kwame Bell (percussion), and guests Chieli Minucci (guitar on one track) and DJ Apollo.

Gunn recently relocated from New York to Atlanta. But he's originally from the Midwest (born in Chicago and raised in East St. Louis), which might account for why this and his three previous recordings for other labels sound different. “The thing about Midwestern musicians is that we were not locked into an East Coast thing or a West Coast thing. We get ideas from all sides,” says Gunn. He’s also played with a number of top innovators, including stints with Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Branford Marsalis’ Buckshot LeFonque band.

Asked about his peers who've been labeled as retro musicians, Gunn is quick to respond. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but if the younger musicians don't take it upon themselves to grow and change, then the music will be stuck in the same place it has since the ‘80s...If you don’t want to take it one step forward, why do it at all?”

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