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Jim Rotondi: Dark Blue

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Trumpeter/flugelhornist Jim Rotondi’s Dark Blue boasts an urbane, broad-shouldered sound that is fast becoming the hallmark of the Smoke Sessions label. Throughout these 10 tracks, Rotondi and his bandmates (vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist David Wong and drummer Carl Allen) interact with an offhand elegance you’d be happy to find yourself taking in at any big-city club.

Rotondi’s style is a fusion of flash and depth. He’s got chops for days but never turns them into a crutch. One minute, he’s whipping through a glittery solo on the firm-grooving “BC”; the next, his horn embraces the introspective last-call melody of the title track. (These two tunes are among the six on Dark Blue written or co-written by Rotondi.) “In Graz” cooks along with swagger and crisply articulated colors, and the trumpeter negotiates the gently bluesy lines of “Monk’s Mood” with heartwarming grace.

Rotondi marshals his musicians with assurance, endlessly enriching the classically stylish vibe. From the jump, Locke is in admirable sync with his bandleader. His lustrous accents impart an appropriate magic to “Pure Imagination” (from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), and he skillfully works the vibes’ low and middle ranges on the light-footed Rotondi original “Le Crest.” Whether on the acoustic 88s or behind the Fender Rhodes, Hazeltine is this quintet’s iconoclast, his solo statements marked by left-field harmonic notions and unconventional use of space. Wong is seldom showcased here, but his lines have a tough-minded savvy, particularly on the fervent, subtly exotic album highlight “Biru Kurasai.” Allen’s rhythms are fluid, generous to his fellow musicians, and he delivers an effortlessly ear-pleasing solo on the Hazeltine composition “Highline.” Dark Blue is a ready-made recorded jazz reference point: In an ideal world, every album you buy would be at least as good as this.

Originally Published