Hot House Jazz Review

In two recent releases, trumpeters from different generations offer radically contrasting approaches to jazz. Joey Morant is a few decades older than 36-year-old Ambrose Akinmusire, so he honed his art in the years when jazz, R&B and soul were prominent in pop music. Ambrose came of age in the 21st century, with rap and hip-hop dominating pop music culture. Joey belongs to a long tradition of jazz musicians—specifically trumpeters—as entertainers, and like his forebearers Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, he sings as well as plays. Ambrose has a different agenda: He is a musical agent provocateur, an activist with a barely disguised Black Lives Matter subtext.

Forever Sanctified (Blujazz) presents a personal, full-length self-portrait of Joey Morant as a jazz artist. On past albums he has paid tribute to Louis Armstrong, but here he keeps the tributes to a minimum. One instance is his celebration of Lee Morgan in a sparkling take on the classic jazz standard “The Sidewinder.” Joey has lot in common with Lee, sharing a penchant for expressive trumpet gestures like slides, glisses and slurs, plus a vibrato-rich tone.

The record spotlights a shifting cast of musicians in varied configurations; besides the trumpeter, the only constant on Forever Sanctified is Joey’s 17-year-old son, Amadeus, on drums. Two of the combos on the album feature the B-3 organ, reflecting a reality for jazz musicians who have found that when playing in regional clubs an organ is both more portable and more expansive sounding than a piano. Four of the CD’s dozen tracks showcase a quartet with Mike LeDonne on B-3 and Mark Whitfield on guitar joining Joey and Amadeus. They perform four of Joey’s originals, two of which include vocals and/or narration by the composer. Joey also plays congas, some trombone and, on “Charleston She-Crab Soup,” he overdubs horns on the theme. The tune is a boogaloo-inflected nod to a regional culinary favorite from Joey, who hails from Charleston, South Carolina.

Two other tracks feature veteran B-3 master Gene Ludwig in a trio setting: a vocal version of “Long Ago and Far Away,” and Joey’s tune “My Mother’s Eyes,” on which he tosses in quotes from “The William Tell Overture” (aka The Lone Ranger theme) during the coda.

The album also includes a pair of quartet tracks with pianist Ted Firth and bassist Cameron Brown; the foursome is expanded on three tunes by John Simon on tenor and Max Schweiger on baritone sax. This configuration brings out Joey’s most hard-bop-centered playing and writing, with his “437 Race Street” a particularly fine contribution to the genre.

The leader picks up the flugelhorn in an impressively lyrical duet with pianist Terence Conley. With a piano trio he takes on the old chestnut “Annie Laurie” and sings “Hey There,” a song popularized by Rosemary Clooney in the 1950s. Overall, this CD offers further evidence that jazz is alive, well and thriving in regions beyond the Big Apple, West Coast and big metropolises.