Artist's Choice: Taylor Haskins on Electric Trumpet Essentials
Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.
Many years ago I wandered into a bar on the way home after a gig, and on the house sound system they were playing an intriguing piece of music I’d never heard before. Out of nowhere, an ethereal instrument I couldn’t immediately identify entered the sonic landscape. Was it an analog synthesizer of some kind? A heavily filtered guitar? Wait ... was it ... could it be ... a trumpet? After a few minutes of intense listening, I concluded that it was. However, there was still the question of who it was. After some deliberation I concluded it was Jon Hassell. I ventured my guess to the bartender, who quickly replied, “No, man, this is Miles!”
I was shocked. The song was the first one on this list, and, to my credit, the track also happens to be a frequently cited reference point for Hassell and Brian Eno. Since then, Get Up With It has become one of my favorite recordings. What really got me that day in the bar was how natural Miles’ electric sound was, and how it felt like a new instrument entirely. It wasn’t simply a trumpet-with-electronics. This was a true integration—a sonic concept emanating from within the player, under his complete control.
In some cases the music on this list frames the electric trumpet particularly well, and sometimes the sound of the horn dictates how the music is shaped and where it ventures. But in each of these examples there is a feeling of effortless integration and natural flow, and that’s not as easy to achieve as it might sound.
“He Loved Him Madly”
Miles Davis Get Up With It (Columbia, 1974)
This 32-minute opus is Miles’ tribute to Duke Ellington, who had just passed away a month prior to this session. The way Miles finally comes in on trumpet (more than 16 minutes into the piece) has to be one of the most dramatic entrances on record. It seems like he’s moaning and crying through the horn about the loss of his forefather and friend.
Don Cherry Brown Rice (A&M Horizon, 1975)
In addition to whisper-chanting and generally inducing goosebumps, Cherry employs some warm, fuzzy distortion with a short delay on his pocket trumpet for these intense flights.
Donald Byrd Black Byrd (Blue Note, 1973)
This includes an imaginative use of distortion with a wah-wah pedal as a guitar-like effect, behind a chorus of voices chanting, “Listen to the horn carry on.” Later in the track, Byrd brings this sound back in with a long delay added, which acts almost as an atmospheric background effect. This is an effective implementation of a sound usually associated with much more aggressive music.
The Don Ellis Orchestra Electric Bath (Columbia, 1967)
Ellis was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic progenitors of what he called the “electrophonic” trumpet. For his solo near the end of this piece, he plugs into an Echoplex, which he uses to create a ghost duet partner.
“Some Skunk Funk (Live)”
The Brecker Brothers Heavy Metal Be-Bop (Arista, 1978)
Trumpeter Randy Brecker always creates a distinctive electric sound using a variety of effects in combination. Here he kicks in and out of his harmonizer, which helps give the solo an interesting structure and a nice slow build. Randy has a real knack for this, most likely due to his experience following brother Michael’s brilliant multi-climax saxophone solos night after night.
“Last Night the Moon Came”
Jon Hassell Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM, 2009)
Hassell is a living sage of the trumpet and a brilliant sonic orchestrator. His tone is as magical and otherworldly as the soundscapes he creates for it to reside in. The simplistic way he employs a harmonizer here is stark and striking.
“South Node of the Moon in Pisces”
Graham Haynes Transition (Polygram, 1995)
Haynes has done a lot to help legitimize hip-hop and drum-’n’-bass aesthetics within the improvised-music community. A more recent part of his explorations is an engaging freeform duo with sound designer Hardedge. Here’s a great example of approaching the trumpet as an accompaniment instrument through the use of effects.
Ben Neill Night Science (Thirsty Ear, 2009)
Neill is a true original, to the point of playing an instrument of his own creation, the Mutantrumpet—a hybrid multiple-bell trumpet/sampler/MIDI controller/drum machine. He triggers and/or creates all of the sounds in his compositions himself, in real time.
“Breathe and Silver Spines Contained (for Stanley Kubrick)”
Rob Mazurek Silver Spines (Delmark, 2002)
Compounding digital delays and harsh filtering turns Mazurek’s cornet into a shimmering wall of brass icicles.
Nicholas Payton Sonic Trance (Warner Bros., 2003)
Payton tastefully weaves in and out of this sonic collage with buttery pitch-shift effects, morphing his sound throughout as he blends in with his surroundings (helicopters!). The end result is a dramatic and engaging journey through unexpected terrains.