He’s no newcomer to jazz. He’s been recording for about twenty years as a sideman and a headliner. More than a competent musician, he’s a full blown, contemporary jazz giant and crossover artist, yet for all his talent and fame, I couldn’t find a complete discography on him, not even at his official website. But before I lose you, you need to know that Russell Gunn is more than jazz. His music is injected with funk, hip-hop, latin, and electronica. His sensibilities are anchored in jazz, but he waves his wings wide to whip up dazzling musical landscapes.
My first exposure to Russell was from his 2008 release, Plays Miles. It’s a rare tribute album that takes another’s music, transforms it with his own artistic sensibilities, and does it without mimicry or obsequious groveling—a refreshing treat. After that first taste, I knew I had to take another shot of Gunn’s music. I chose to look for some earlier work. From what I could dig up, his first album, Young Gunn, was released in 1994. I probably should have started with it, but instead, I chose his second, Gunn Fu, released in 1997. Aside from being excellently engineered (Sound on Sound Studios, NYC), it shows that Gunn has been a significant contributor to the advancement of contemporary music from early in his career. He achieves a delicate fusion of yesterday and today with a style grounded in tradition, yet liberated by contemporary energy. That’s not an easy balancing act to accomplish. Too often this kind of blending ends up erring too far one way or the other leaving the listener with either uninspired bebop rehashing or psuedo-gansta grunting. For Gunn, the knack of smoothly connecting bebop to his own unique, savvy-chic style seems to flow instinctively. Okay, l’m over thinking this and you want to know if this music has a full clip or is it just another exercise in musical pocket billiards? Yes, it’s fully loaded. With two Gunns in my hands, it proves to me that he’s no flash-in-the-pan, that happiness is a warm Gunn, I want more. Next to explore are some of his crossover albums, the Ethnomusicology series. Time to goose up my Gunn collection.
A little note on the performance rating. Gunn’s performance is A+ throughout. Greg Tardy’s tenor playing is A+, but, like so many other sax players, his flute chops are sorry. Contrasted to the other stellar playing on the entire CD, it really sticks out and takes a toll on the overall album rating. See the previous review [Gunning Down Miles], and visit the website [GroidMusic].
(||) Rating — Music : A ║ Performance : A- ║ Recording : A ║
Russell Gunn, Gunn Fu, HighNote Records, 1997