REVIEW: Terell Stafford, `BrotherLee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan' (Capri Records)
Lee Morgan was a Philadelphia bad boy. When he joined Dizzy Gillespie's band on trumpet at 18, the sky was the limit. That's his legendary solo on John Coltrane's 1957 "Blue Train." In the 1960s, he became a star; only Miles Davis shined brighter. The Sidewinder (1963) is, arguably, one of the best jazz albums of all time. An outspoken advocate for his fellow musicians, he lobbied the television networks to feature more 1971 jazz greats. His end came in between two 1972 sets at Slug's Saloon on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where his ex-wife shot him dead during an argument. In so doing, she not only murdered a kind soul, but she robbed us all of his genius ever since. He was 33.
Now, another Philly trumpeter, Terell Stafford, tries to imagine what might have happened musically had Morgan lived. BrotherLee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (Capri Records) takes seven Morgan originals--one associated with Morgan (the languid "Candy") and one of his own ("Favor")--for a lovefest tribute that, indeed, contains the kind of phrases, tics and rambling individualism Brother Lee might have grown into.
Take "Hocus Pocus," for instance. In leading things off with such a complex, circuitously-arrived-at destination, he's not only exhibiting his chops, but beautifully playing off pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington (who stings in making his upright sing during a "Speedball" solo), drummer Dana Hall and, especially, longtime foil Tim Warfield on sax (whose interplay with Stafford throughout is a recurring highlight).
Stafford, 48, says, "...when you start playing these songs where a bar has been set so high, you better just be yourself." So, there's no imitating going on. This is one serious dude! He came to jazz in his early 20s, from the classical world, by joining pianist McCoy Tyner's Latin All-Star Band. Stafford's been Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University since 1995.
It won't be surprising to see this one turn up on various best-of lists at the end of the year.