Justin Walter – Stars (2012)

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photo source: AllAboutJazz.com

Trumpeter Justin Walter sensed that his latest album Stars was destined to be out of the ordinary. “I was very aware from the beginning that this was going to be a strange album,” he acknowledges, “but I also wanted it to be a serious album.” For this project, Walter assembled for the most part a four-part horn section in front of electric guitar, Rhodes, bass and drums. The scores he wrote fit together like parts of a suite, and indeed, the composition “Sound” is deliberately broken up into four parts. In putting together a band that’s in between a big band and a small combo, Walter was able to flash out some fairly sophisticated arrangements and not bog the music down with too many ideas competing with each other.

But Walter’s crowning touch to make this record strange in the way he envisioned it was to enlist fellow Michiganer and His Name Is Alive leader Warren Defever to record and co-produce the record. It’s Defever’s savvy production that moves Walter’s composition out of being a rather good derivative of the creative big band constructions of Duke Ellington, George Russell and Carla Bley and into an entirely unique, interstellar space (thus, the title). A scion of experimental rock might seem an odd choice to help in crafting the sound of a jazz record, but the man who once issued a HNIA tribute to noted avant jazz saxophonist Marion Brown already knew his way around the stuff.

Thus, Stars is an unusual mixture of modern creative jazz and experimental indie rock. On some tracks, like “Woodland Creatures,” you’ll hear more jazz, while on “Take Off”, you’ll hear jazz too, but more of the Sun Ra or Heiner Stadler variety. Defever’s spacey effects accentuate and give those tracks a little indie rock sheen but don’t stand in the way of Walter’s charts. Since “Odyssey” lacks the trombone and reeds of the other tracks, Walter’s echoing trumpet set against a lightly strummed guitar is the most alt-rock song here, but the main attraction is the leader’s ability to wring human feel not from improvising, but from the placement and cadence of his notes. “Computer Say OK” goes even farther in throwing off a lonesome, almost eerie sound that’s most remindful of His Name Is Alive. The Sound suite finds a near-perfect balance between the two worlds of music even as it traverses through a range of moods.

Dave Douglas is cited one of Justin Walter’s influences, and it’s clear from listening to Stars he shares the fellow trumpeter/leader/composer’s insatiable appetite to make jazz fresh again by annexing bits of contemporary music and various odd sources into it. Justin Walter made a record that realized his lofty ambitions, and he has a genuine ability to shake things up a little bit in the jazz world. If he does, I say, more power to him.

Stars was self released on January 2. Visit Justin Walter’s website.

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