James Morrison is a virtuoso in the true sense of the word. He not only plays trumpet, but also trombone, euphonium, flugel horn, tuba, saxophones, double bass and piano. He has played with countless musical legends including Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, Woody Shaw, Red Rodney, George Benson, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Ray Brown and Wynton Marsalis. His musical career is a fairly varied one that goes beyond the usual jazz gigs. He recorded Jazz Meets the Symphony with The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lalo Schifrin, performed concerts at the Royal Albert hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for Princess Anne. He was also the artistic advisor to the Sydney Symphony’s Kaleidoscope series, which has included performances by Chick Corea, Dianne Reeves, Gary Burton and Kristjan Jarvi.
In 1990, James Morrison recorded Snappy Doo, an album that featured Morrison along with three legendary artists (Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, and Jeff Hamilton) creating a seventeen-piece big band sound through the use of overdubbing. Ray Brown and Herb Ellis have passed on, but Morrison has recorded its sequel, Snappy Too (Aleph Records). For this album he did not replace Brown or Ellis, so he had to pull out his acoustic bass and brush up on guitar, in addition to playing trumpet, trombone, sax, and piano as he did for the first album. This was recorded mostly in his Sydney studio before moving to Los Angeles where Hamilton added the drum parts and Morrison added some improvised solos.
This writer has not heard the earlier recording, but if one listened to Snappy Too without knowing how it was recorded, one would be knocked out by this big band recording, although it opens up sounding like a slightly scratchy Dixieland recording of All of Me that segues into the tight big band setting for Morrison to take a crisp, bright trumpet solo initially against just a bass accompaniment before the full big band backing resurfaces. Morrison’s own The Master Plan is a nice slow groover that hints at A Night In Tunisia mixed with the (Theme From) The Pink Panther. with some cool West Coast styled tenor (think of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn). Then he turns to trombone as the lead instrument on Getting Sentimental Over You. His playing on trombone like tenor sax and trumpet has a crispness and an appealing lyricism in the solos while the big band arrangements and accompaniments are lush but not syrupy.
The original The Call, is a Basie styled-blues with a loping beat with marvelous ensemble work. I particularly lie the brass riffs that accent his trumpet solo that has him hitting quite a few high notes here. No Regrets has a pensive quality with Morrison featured on alto saxophone and trumpet and followed by him on trumpet on the lively big band bop-flavored Zog’s Jog.
Sad Blues moves from the big Band setting to that of a traditional New Orleans jazz band with idiomatic tailgate-flavored trombone and trumpet set against a crisp parade-like rhythm. Another non-big band performance is Someday My Prince Will Come taken as intimate trombone - guitar duet. Morrison’s gospel-inflected Going Home, is in two-parts with the first part being somewhat more sober with a stride-inflected piano interlude leading into a more exhilarating mood. Its a spirit-raising close to a remarkable recording. Snappy Too is an astonishing technical achievement, but more importantly the music heard is wonderful.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a promotional video for this recording.