South African trumpeter Darren English has released “Imagine Nation”, his 10-track debut that features four of his original compositions, five standards, and a Dizzy Gillespie piece.
His tempo, harmony and structure on the title track, a self-written romp through modern jazz heaven, immediately show his skills and characteristics not only as a top-notch trumpet player, but as a composer and arranger as well. And with his version of “Body And Soul”, he also shows that he’s capable of commanding a well-known classic without ever losing momentum. I didn’t lose interest in listening to yet another version of this often played tune.
Dizzy’s “Bebop” to me sounded less intense and powerful as, say, Arturo Sandoval‘s version of this fierce and furious little ditty. Carmen Bradford is guest singer on another wild and fast number on offer: “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” has never been one of my favorite pieces, and actually showcases Carmen’s voice much less than I had wished for.
The second and third original compositions here are a part of a suite Darren wrote for Nelson Mandela. On “Pledge For Peace”, he uses an interview excerpt as a template for the first downtempo piece, a thoughtful, deliberate tune which also features the bright and shimmering tone of saxophonist Greg Tardy. I can understand the Terence Blanchard comparisons, but here is certainly a unique and innovative new voice at work on the trumpet. The longer, almost 12-minute “The Birth” is by far the most ambitious and dramatic song on the album with a lot of high-pitched notes and tremendous interplay which delivers its full effect after more than a couple of listens.
I like Carmen much better on “Skylark”, the Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael standard where she can be heard in total with her rich, contrasting voice. Fellow trumpet ace Russell Gunn and the leader are trading fours on “Cherokee” which comes down with yet another brutally wild arrangement and there are traces of Wynton on the Frank Loesser standard “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”. Here is a new trumpet voice to remember which I’m sure will be tamed sooner or later.