Duke Ellington’s famous characterization about music being “beyond category” immediately springs to mind when considering the highly personal art of Justin Mullens. His latest release, Justin Mullens and the Delphian Jazz Orchestra (Fresh Sound New Talent), devotes 74 minutes and all 10 tracks to the legend of Beowulf. The writing, all by Mullens, is excellent; voicings for the 15 pieces and occasional wordless doubling by vocalist Judith Berkson are challenges the musicians feast on. The solos are exceptional, particularly the leader on trumpet, who also doubles on French horn. Other standouts include the rich trombone choir behind Berkson on “The Trifler,” the work of saxophonists Chris Cheek, Matt Glassmeyer and Dave Barraza, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and the kinetic support of drummer Danny Weiss.
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