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Roy Campbell Quartet: It’s Krunch Time

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Coming on the heels of his finest album, Ethnic Stew and Brew (Delmark), trumpeter Roy Campbell has traded his sidemen for a completely new set for the novel It’s Krunch Time, the latest installment in Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series. After exploring jazz links to different music types from around the world with bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake as the Pyramid Trio, Campbell’s newest project is rooted in a stricter jazz ethos. No matter what the band, however, Campbell still retains his economical playing and an adept manner of making complicated melodies easy to comprehend. Paired with vibes player Khan Jamal on the front line, Campbell has created another great record.

Backed by Wilbur Morris on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums, Campbell and Jamal shine equally as they go back and forth, setting the rhythmic pace and mood. In keeping with the de facto Blue Series tradition, the quartet covers a jazz classic, selecting Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.” The group breeze through the piece with a discretion that pays tribute to Monk, but also with a style its own as Jamal proves his instrument is as mighty as the piano. “Bemsha Swing” is a tad counterproductive showing that Campbell’s tunes are not as striking as Monk’s song.

“Ode for Mr. DC” is an upbeat Campbell number that features some of the group’s best playing, but the most impressive performance comes from Jamal who lights up “Khanducting”-a piece that, alone, makes the album worth owning. The CD’s only awkward moment comes at its conclusion as Campbell performs a solo version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Like Jimi Hendrix’s version, Campbell plays it straight then throws in cantankerous clusters of notes that knock the song off balance before he returns to the melody. It’s an outstanding performance, but just feels tacked on.

Krunch Time redefines Campbell’s prowess as a leader and great trumpeter.