Before you even play a note of The Normyn Suites, you know at the very least that it’s going to be an interesting listen. With a guest list that spotlights Elvis Costello, Bill Frisell, Joshua Redman, Donny McCaslin, Chris Potter, Nels Cline, Catherine Russell, and others, how can it not be? A read through the liner notes, revealing that the music is an elegy to Leonhart’s late 15-year-old dachshund Normyn, ensures that this is one you’ve got to hear.
Costello, Redman, and rapper JSWISS feature on the opening “Shut Him Down,” but it’s the arrival of the first of the two “Normyn Suites,” a five-parter following the path from “Denial” to “Acceptance”—and subtitled “Soundtrack to the Five Stages of Grieving”—that ignites the program. Leonhart always thinks big on his orchestral creations, and this one, pieced together over nearly two years, is no exception: The credits name more than 70 musicians in all, Leonhart listing himself as just another trumpeter among a dozen.
Each component of the suite is sufficiently distinctive while serving the whole; all of it is so cinematic and imbued with movement that it’s impossible not to get swept up in its grandeur, or to appreciate the love that went into its creation. The six sections of the second “Normyn Suite,” this one called “Love and Loss,” take a deeper dive into the emotional push-and-pull of devastating loss. “May the Young Grow Old,” the first section, featuring Larry Goldings’ organ, gives way to the more introspective “Waking from Sedation” (one of four tracks featuring Frisell) and onward to its conclusion. A pair of quartet tracks with McCaslin—one titled “Kenny Dorham,” the other “Wayne Shorter”—follow; they necessarily feel detached from the main suites but offer a welcome sendoff.