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Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom

It’s appropriate to revive a venerable spelling to describe trumpeter Randy Sandke, for he is in every sense a compleat musician, a true Renaissance man of jazz. Any doubts about his all-around command of his chosen instrument should be dispelled after listening to his extended solos on the samba “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)” here. It’s the perfect place to begin assessing Sandke’s artistry, neither a mainstream standard nor a metatonal exercise, his name for his advanced theory of melody and harmony. Based on the Dizzy Gillespie small-group arrangement, it’s simply a fabulous trumpet showcase.

An impossible-to-pigeonhole jazzman, Sandke covers all of his bases and more here in a lively, intimate quartet setting with guitarist Howard Alden, bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer John Riley, refreshing out of his usual big-band context. Sandke jauntily swings Cole Porter (“Just One of Those Things”), evokes without slavishly imitating Louis Armstrong (“New Orleans”), and evinces dazzling technique with insouciance (a Latin-izing of Bill Evans’ “Funkallero”). Then there are his three adventurous metatonal pieces, which to these un-technical ears sound like extensions of the explorations of George Russell and Lennie Tristano: stimulating and involving, especially the Harmon-muted “Nicki’s Journey” and ladder-like bass/flugelhorn two-steps of “Little Bix.”

Compleating the versatility are gorgeously delineated ballads with small, gemlike vocals by Parrott, who’s learned more than a thing about subtlety from Peggy Lee and Lee Wiley: “Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye,” “For All We Know,” Sandke’s own lyrics on “Django’s Dream,” a contrafact of “Reverie,” as well as “New Orleans.” A short flugelhorn/guitar duet on “Toyland” serves as a perfect coda to a consummate program.

Originally Published