A master also at trombone and French horn, trumpet player Mac Gollehon has experienced a rich and varied three-decade career as a sideman, leader and composer. After moving to New York and starting out playing in big bands by Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Buddy Morrow, Gollehon’s virtuosic and versatile playing soon caught the eye of some of the city’s best producers and before long he was appearing on records or gigging with the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, Sheena Easton, Chic, Mick Jagger, Hall & Oates, Duran Duran and Al Jarreau…on over 800 records to date. Gollehon’s own albums are where he indulges his jazz side, however, in shades ranging from jazz-funk fusion to bebop.
Gollehon’s emotional, fearless attack and impeccable chops (Miles even nicknamed him “Chops” because he couldn’t remember Gollehon’s real name) is also perfectly suited for Latin jazz, and early on in his career, Gollehon not only pursued that style of music, but put his own mark on it. La Fama is a collection of mostly live recordings Gollehon made prior to his proper debut album Smokin’ Section (1996). These tapes cover the trumpeter’s stints in the bands of Ray Barretto, Hector Lavoe, Larry Harlow as well as Gollehon’s own bands. All recorded around the time Gollehon was touring with Duran Duren during their peak, and putting in studio dates for Bowie, Madonna and Jarreau.
Besides these all being Latin jazz performances featuring the horn of Gollehon, this mixture of Latin jazz standards and Gollehon originals were all arranged by Mac himself. And oftentimes, that’s just as convincing as the individual performances themselves. “New Mac City” is actually two parts of a twelve part suite, the first part featuring Gollehon soloing over only Cuban percussion and a churning organ, segueing into a later section of flutes and a beat up old piano, but the waves of brass that follow provide an effective launching point for Gollehon’s flights, before dropping down into a dirge-like organ led mood that leaves the work unresolved. Willie Bobo’s “Fried Neck Bones,” has an arrangement that, despite all the horns present, feels airy, and progresses through different chord changes before returning to the theme. “Fotos De Los Ochentas” is, for all practical purposes, just Gollehon and bassist Ray Martinez conversing musically, backed by some modulating percussion not conforming to a set pace.
Other times, it’s just a knock-down, drag-out blowing session. The Bata ritual “Conjunto Moods” boasts the competing trumpets of Gollehon, Ray Maldonado and Doc Cheatum. Whoa! Other tracks serve as opportunities for lyrical articulations; “La Fama” was originally intended to be graced with Lavoe’s vocals, but he had to bail on the gig at the last minute, so Gollehon stepped in his place with a fluent muted horn.
There are two studio tracks inserted into this collection that offer up their own surprises. The reverb-drenched “Introspection” (Youtube above) and the dark mood “Nite Trax” were recorded with drummer Tony Thompson and bassist/producer Bernard Edwards of Chic (Edwards slays it on his brief bass solo turn on “Introspection”). I don’t have to tell you that both of these cuts groove. It was also during these mini-sessions that Gollehon first met trumpet legend Lester Bowie, and Gollehon would years later end up playing in Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. Bowie is featured after Gollehon on “Nite Trax,” and it’s a thrill to hear two of the jazz trumpet’s brasher performers try to out-nasty each other.
Dizzy Gillespie’s standard-bearer “A Night In Tunisia” finishes off the album, and Gollehon as the only horn on this performance puts in a commanding tour de force exhibition.
Very few aside from jazz club audiences and fellow musicians in New York during the 80s and 90s have seen Mac Gollehon as a serious force to be reckoned with in the field of Latin jazz. That should all change since the word — or shall I say, album — is out. Even if you’re just an occasional listener of the stuff, La Fama is worth picking up.