Love is strange, all right, and Love Stories is stranger still. Hardly a bouquet of ballads, the album is inspired by “love in all its dysfunction,” as trumpeter Russell Gunn explains in David R. Adler’s revealing liner notes.
But don’t leap to logical conclusions. Gunn also points out that “Because I Love You (The Stalker Song)” and “Bitch, You Don’t Love Me” aren’t the residue of some soured love affair. The former has more to do with Hitchcock-ian atmospherics than heartbreak, apparently, and the latter, notes Gunn, is “basically a song about being used. For me, more than anything it means the music business.”
The album’s overarching theme and hip-hop-inspired production allows Gunn a lot of creative latitude. For openers, the trumpeter reinvents “Love Requiem,” a previously recorded original composition, before unveiling arrangements of pop tunes that reflect his broad musical tastes without sounding contrived or congested. A prime example of how deftly he juggles vintage and contemporary sounds is the go-go-triggered “Love for Sale,” featuring vocalist Heidi Martin. Primarily acting as conceptualist on this collection, Gunn nevertheless plays some fine trumpet and flugelhorn: blue-toned on “All You Need Is Love,” appropriately noir-ish on the aforementioned “Stalker.” Meanwhile, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, keyboardist Orrin Evans, bassist Carlos Henderson, drummer Montez Coleman, percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell and others contribute to the album’s colorful textures and tangents.
Perhaps more than a few fence-sitters out there on the jazz/hip-hop front may find themselves quickly falling for this imaginatively arranged and programmed session.