Lee Morgan’s status as one of hard bop’s masters of the trumpet is beyond question, but his gifts as a composer have perhaps never been given their due. Fellow brass man Terell Stafford’s tribute collection, BrotherLee Love</ i>, produced by bassist John Clayton, stands as a corrective to this slight, its foregrounding of Morgan originals providing an enjoyable reminder that there is much more to Morgan’s songbook than just “The Sidewinder.”
Seven of the album’s nine tracks are Morgan compositions, and from the vigorous samba beat of “Mr. Kenyatta” to the slow-boil balladry of “Carolyn,” Stafford’s quintet runs the gamut of rhythmic and melodic riches. Stafford and tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield turn the melodic line of “Petty Larceny” into a skirling blues fanfare, and Dana Hall’s pops-and-snaps drumbeats are just the ticket for the aggressive bebopper “Stop Start.” Stafford, fortunately, is never content to merely copy Morgan’s vibe. He rips through the changes with the grit and speed of his honoree, but his playing has a warmth and generosity all its own, particularly on the album’s sole standard, Alex Kramer’s playfully seductive “Candy” (Stafford breaks out the mute for this one). “Favor,” Stafford’s compositional contribution to BrotherLee Love, is like fine whiskey, mellow but with bite; pianist Bruce Barth’s bluesy block chords give it just a touch of churchiness.
Stafford and Warfield blend beautifully as melodic accompanists, the latter’s solo on “Yes I Can, No You Can’t” exuding a suave, masculine grace. Barth, Hall and bassist Peter Washington understand exactly what blues-driven jazz like this needs from its rhythm section and acquit themselves beautifully. (Washington’s elastic behind-the-beat solo on “Hocus Pocus” is an album high point.) BrotherLee Love is just the kind of tribute Morgan would have appreciated: Like the man himself, it cuts the BS and gets down to business.