By Devon “Doc” Wendell
It’s not always easy for a jazz instrumentalist to truly demonstrate their versatility on a recording project. Jazz musicians often get pigeon-hold into sticking with one style and that’s what the people end up expecting throughout their career. Trumpet master, composer and arranger Winston Byrd’s debut on Ropeadope Records titled Once Upon A Time Called Now is as eclectic as you can get. It’s also relentlessly soulful, swinging, funky and a true labor of love for Byrd and his giant cast of phenomenal musicians accompanying him on this glorious project. Once Upon A Time Called Right Now was produced by Winston Byrd and Giovanni Washington Wright.
The album kicks off with the funkiest rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin” that you’ll ever hear. This isn’t some cliche jazz-fusion funk. This is the real deal. Taiki Tsuyama’s slap bass is reminiscent of Paul Jackson’s masterful bass lines on all of those classic Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters albums with a dash of Bootsy Collins thrown in for good measure. Winston Byrd plays some of the filthiest psychedelic trumpet lines ever laid down. His use of electronic effects is tasteful an innovative. The horn arrangements are tight and burning.
Byrd’s lyricism on Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice’s “On This Night Of A Thousand Stars” is breathtaking. Here the listener gets to experience Byrd’s more traditional big-band jazz side. The same is true on Frank Loesser’s ” Brotherhood Of Man. On this piece Byrd engages in a fantastic trumpet duel with George Rabbai. Snooky Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge are definitely prevalent influences in Byrd’s playing but Byrd’s own distinct style and personality really shine through clearly on these pieces and throughout this entire album. Winston Byrd’s playing is so dynamic and imaginative. He doesn’t play in one style and has more than just one tone; not an east feat for a trumpet player.
Brian O’ Rourke’s Fender Rhodes keyboard comping sets the mood on Eric Otis’ “Grandma Jo’s House.” Byrd’s syncopated and fluid muted trumpet lines paint many pictures with an endless array of colors and textures. This is the work of a true master who has done his homework, paid his dues and then some. Fritz Wise’s drumming is subtle and perfect.
Nick Rolfe’s “Borrowed Time” is delicate in its funkiness and thick in its rhythmic layering. This piece has a slight smooth-jazz groove but it breaks away from that and takes on a life of its own. The listener is taken on a most rewarding journey. Byrd’s Flugelhorn playing swings harder than life itself.
There have been many renditions of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk” but the one on this album defies categorization. Yes, it’s jazz and yes, there are traditional components to the music but Byrd and his band explore every possibility of every chord change, harmonic structure and nuance. Byrd plays the piccolo trumpet and trombone here as well. Brubeck would have been more than proud of this phenomenal reading of one of his all-time classics.
Byrd’s mournful, vocal-like lines on Eugene Frisen’s “Anne Rising” will bring tears to your eyes. Steve Rawlin’s tender piano accompaniment is haunting and precise.
It’s just natural for Byrd to tackle Clark Terry’s “Mumbles.” Byrd scat sings along with George Rabbai and the results are hilarious. The true spirit and humor of Clark Terry is captured perfectly.
Winston Byrd and Giovanni Washington-Wright’s original “Times” is part rock, part blues, with elements of jazz and fusion. The amazing Julian Coryell (son of Larry Coryell) sets things on fire with his blistering electric guitar solo. Winston Byrd takes the baton and tears it up without ever straying from the composition’s theme.
The other original by Byrd and Wright “Brown Eyes” is this R&B flavored lullaby with great piano work by Mark Zier. Byrd’s tone is so thick, rich and beautiful. Byrd also plays trombone, bass trombone and flugelhorn on this piece, harmonizing with himself.
The album ends on a funky note with Asa & Airreal Watkins/Adrian “Bobby” Battle’s “One Life, One Love.” This pop exploration is more proof of how versatile Winston Byrd’s tastes and skills are.
Winston Byrd’s Once Upon A Time Called Now is surely going to kick down some doors for this incredible trumpeter. I expect Winston Byrd to become a household name just as Kamasi Washington’s has in the ‘mainstream world.” Not only do you have some of the finest trumpet playing you’ll hear on the scene today, Once Upon A Time Called Now also takes you to the heart of a musician’s love for many different styles and musical genres. This is a classic for all tastes and ages. Do not miss out on this one.