Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Randy Sandke Quartet: Trumpet After Dark

Trumpet After Dark, mostly ballads, is the most accessible of three new releases by trumpeter and composer Randy Sandke. Subtitled Jazz in a Meditative Mood, it features his quartet with Parthenia, a quartet of viols. At its most romantic, as on Sandke’s “Nocturne,” the music evokes a cinema soundtrack with a Mancini touch. Sandke’s melodic trumpet work recalls Bix Beiderbecke, Warren Vache and even Miles Davis. There are also tracks sans strings; for example, Chopin’s “Etude in E,” which surprisingly the quartet takes into free-jazz territory, and “Blues for Sandy,” a 12-bar blues with walking bass (Greg Cohen) and in-the-pocket drums (Dennis Mackrel). Ever-tasteful pianist Bill Charlap charms here and everywhere.

Outside In, with Sandke’s Inside Out nonet, suggests the writing of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Raymond Scott and Wynton Marsalis rolled into one. Roiling, exotic and zany, the music criss-crosses the boundary between mainstream and avant-garde, with straightahead jazz mixing with blatant fracturing in a way that borders on the brilliance of Mingus. Several titles actually describe the music faithfully: Sandke’s “Genesis 1” and “Revelations 8-11” (with Scott Robinson’s bass saxophone as the voice of God), trombonist Ray Anderson’s Ellington-ish “Gulf Stream Dream” and Sandke’s “Ornette Chop Suey” and “Hyde Park,” among others. Out-of-the-ordinary solos abound, matching the surprising juxtapositions in the charts. This is the best of the three albums.

The Mystic Trumpeter takes its name from a poem by Walt Whitman. Sandke employs a quintet called the Metatonal Band on the six-part title composition and adds trombonist Wycliffe Gordon on the four-part “Symphony for Six,” which completes the disc. (Sandke described his metatonal concept in his 2001 book Harmony for a New Millennium.) The title suite is dark, cinematic, and often busy. (You can’t accuse Sandke of short-changing the writing anywhere on this or the other albums.) As on Outside In, the performances mix control and freedom in quick-changing episodes. The metatonal twist in the harmony and the word “mystic” in the title seem to go together. Pianist Ted Rosenthal exercises his Don Pullen-meets-Cecil Taylor chops on Part 3 of the Whitman suite. Bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Dennis Mackrel, who appear on all three albums, cover a lot of rhythmic ground superbly. Scott Robinson, another carryover from the Inside Out Band, goes from pure, classically toned tenor to wild, trilling soprano.

Originally Published