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

Derrick Gardner and The Jazz Prophets: A Ride to the Other Side…

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Despite the name, there are no prophecies here, nor is the “other” in the title a reference to futuristic or outside music. The inspiration for trumpeter Derrick Gardner’s band name is Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and like that once-stalwart ensemble, the Jazz Prophets are down and in the pocket. Like the Messengers, Gardner’s Prophets hew a hard-bop groove, but with more than a touch of what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Latin tinge.” And like the best editions of the Messengers, this band has been around a while, with the advantage of a cohesive frontline-Gardner’s trumpet and flugelhorn, Vincent Gardner’s trombone, Rob Dixon’s tenor sax-and relatively steady personnel for more than a decade.

Bright, robust, assertively swinging solos from the horns and the brawny piano of Anthony Wonsey would be enough to recommend this CD as a worthy straightahead jazz endeavor. But what makes it better than average is the high quality of the fresh material: eight originals from the band, five of them from the leader, as well as a ballad, the evocative “Be One” by Bill Lee from a Spike Lee film (School Daze), a welcome change from the usual, overdone standards most leaders settle for. Then there is the attention to ensemble detail, notably arrangements that make full use of the three-horn line for backgrounds, interludes and shout choruses as well as theme statements. So “Mac Daddy Grip” opens with bass (Rodney Whitaker) leading to a stop-time theme with staccato horns stepping right into a Blakey shuffle beat feel for the fervent solos, and “Bugabug” has a Horace Silver-ish Latin-funk vibe with interwoven horns on the theme.

Only Dixon’s two originals stray beyond the neo-Blue Note/Messengers/Silver feel: “God’s Gift” rides an open, spread rhythm like a Coltrane Quartet ballad, and “Of Infinity” uses hard-bop as a launching pad for a more blistering feel during the improvisations.