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South African Trumpeter Darren English Lives in 'Imagine Nation' on Hot Shoe Records [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on Mar 17, 2016 07:00 PM EDT
'Imagine Nation' by Darren English 'Imagine Nation' debut by South African trumpeter Darren English (Photo : courtesy Hot Shoe Records)

Here's a young trumpet player, composer and arranger from Capetown, South Africa who plays well beyond his years. For Imagine Nation (Hot Shoe Records) Darren English has written a three-track suite for Nelson Mandela [1918-2013]. English was born in 1990, the year Mandela was released from prison. Add two bebop classics, one more original and four imaginatively reconfigured tunes from the "great American songbook" and you've got one impressive debut.

Backed by piano (Kenny Bank, Jr.), bass (Billy Thornton) and drums (Chris Burroughs), with added sax (Greg Tardy) on three tracks, vocals (Carmen Bradford) on two and two more trumpets (Joe Gransden and Russell Gunn) on one track, the blow-out bebop closer- Ray Noble's 1938 "Cherokee"-and you have an exciting new trumpet voice that oftentimes plays with no mouthpiece in an effort to explore the sonic possibilities of his instrument.

Based in Atlanta after an extended sojourn in Italy where he learned to sympathetically back vocalists, English backs up vocalist Bradford on the 1941 standard "Skylark" and Billie Holiday's 1935 "What A Little Moonlight Can Do." A self-proclaimed student of bop, his take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" has him positively wailing!

Frank Loesser's 1950 "I've Never Been In Love Before" is an exquisite little piano/bass duet. And that's the thing about his vision. He stays mute on a track off his own debut. It's obviously more important to him to create a different texture. The track-sans drums-swings hard and is sandwiched in-between "Skylark" and his "Bullet In The Gunn" original, written for one of the three "Cherokee" trumpeters with whom he also has the pleasure of playing with in a band called Russell Gunn's Krunk Jazz Orkestra.

But back to Mandela: Complete with snippets of an actual radio interview from the great man himself, the three parts of the suite aren't even next to each other. The title track is inexplicably followed by "Body and Soul" and the other two parts make up tracks #5 and #6. Cinematic in scope, soulful, sophisticated and syncopated, "Imagine Nation" bursts with ideas as it is supposed to represent the post-apartheid South Africa Mandela believed was coming. "Pledge for Peace" has Mandela's own voice breaking through the static and "The Birth" is, indeed, the new nation he envisioned, made manifest by a single piano note that builds and builds as bass, drums, trumpet and sax make for a glorious reality. Pretty heady stuff for a debut!

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TagsDarren English, REVIEW, Nelson Mandela, Bebop

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