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Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble: A Trumpet in the Morning

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Whether or not Marty Ehrlich was affected by the harsh reviews of The Long View, the boldly experimental 2003 recording by his Large Ensemble, this belated follow-up is much more cohesive in a listener-friendly way. That isn’t to say A Trumpet in the Morning, which consists of Ehrlich compositions dating back to 1992, is without its bold strokes: sudden tonal and stylistic shifts, unusual time signatures, juxtaposed source materials. But with a rugged blues sensibility and charismatic soloists (and longtime Ehrlich associates) like trombonist Ray Anderson, trumpeter James Zollar, pianist Uri Caine and saxophonist J.D. Parran animating things, the album is full of crowd-pleasing moves to go with its sophisticated inside game.

Parran provides both the exultant narration (“Watch me, watch me steal away!”) and charged soprano and bass saxophone solos on the 23-minute title track. Based on a poem by Arthur Brown, a St. Louis crony of Ehrlich’s and Parran’s who died young, the concerto-like work combines the earthy, open-air feeling of an AACM recitation and the heartland emotion of an Aaron Copland piece.

The blues marks both “Blues for Peace,” a churning big-band workout in 9/8 that moves in horizontal fashion across a varied landscape, and “Rundowns and Turnbacks,” a seven-parter that takes in Delta and New Orleans blues, a waltz and a “Quaker Work Song.” Both of these extended pieces feature Jerome Harris’ stinging slide guitar. “M Variations (Melody for Madeleine),” from 1992, builds from Caine’s lyrical opening to the album’s hardest-swinging sections, featuring trumpeter Ron Horton and tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker. Though Ehrlich is heard on only one piece, on clarinet, his presence is felt throughout via his Midwestern-style immediacy and sometimes-sneaky devotion to groove. When you least expect it, the music can get funky.

Originally Published