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May 2007

Terell Stafford
Taking Chances: Live at the Dakota
MaxJazz

As the applause in the Dakota dies down, the acoustic bass begins an ominous three-note phrase. The phrase repeats, resonates and repeats again. A vaguely familiar melody sounds. And then, like the band’s Minneapolis audience, you are startled to find yourself thinking of the lyric “Jesus loves me/This I know.” A children’s hymn gone modal, arrangements that recall the elegant swing of the venerable Blue Note sound and energetic blowing fuel trumpeter and flugelhornist Terell Stafford’s second disc for MaxJazz. A live session of mostly original material (five of the eight tracks were written by band members), Stafford, along with pianist Bruce Barth, Tim Warfield on saxes, Derrick Hodge on bass and drummer Dana Hall, performs a crisp set of fun compositions that add small twists to postbop styles.

“A Nick Off the Mark” starts things off festively with an uptempo Latin rhythm and solos that call forth salsa, carnivale and mariachi themes. The American chestnut “Old Folks” summons a Miles-like melancholia. “Pegasus,” a mellow tune from pianist Barth, features Warfield and Stafford’s trumpet doing frontline duty, harmonizing on a lilting melody reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s earlier songs. With “Blues for J.T.” the group gets its groove back as each member steps up and turns the tune out: Stafford letting loose growls and playing notes found somewhere in the stratosphere; Warfield breaking down the funky vamp with a soprano sax. Maybe playing all those new tunes was a calculated risk. Maybe the band worried about running out of energy. A set so solid and enjoyable isn’t taking chances; it’s taking charge.

Originally published in May 2007
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