2.My Man Louis (Bailey)
4.Lovely Planet (Bailey)
5.Blues for Ella (Bailey)
6.Morrho Velho (Milton Nascimento)
7.Stepping Up (Bailey)
8.Children’s Waltz (Bailey)
9.Ensaio Geral (Gilberto Gil)
John Bailey (trumpet, flugelhorn), Stacey Dillard(ts, ss),
John Hart (guitar) Cameron Brown (bass), Victor Lewis (drums).
John Bailey (flugelhorn), Janet Axelrod (flute), Leo Grinhausz (cello),
John Hart (guitar), Cameron Brown (bass).
Recorded Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City (New Jersey),
January 3-4, 2017.
I have a jazz-loving friend currently living in New York who occasionally
makes me jealous by sending me an email detailing the gigs he’s recently
been to, the musicians he’s heard. About 18 months ago he enthused about a
trumpeter called John Bailey (of whom I had barely heard, let alone heard),
advising me to listen to him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate any
recordings by him. More recently I found his website – johnbailey.com –
where one can view half a dozen videos of Bailey in action working with his
own quintet, in a band led by Ray Barretto and, as a very young man, the
Buddy Rich big band. I began to understand my friend’s enthusiasm. It was
clear, even on this limited evidence, that Bailey was a man very well
versed in the idioms of bop and hard bop, who could play with real
freshness within those idioms, not merely ‘imitate’ them.
Looking for information on Bailey, I learned that his musical CV included
spells with Ray Charles, Woody Herman, James Moody, Ed Palermo, Kenny
Burrell and Arturo O’Farril, amongst many others and that, as well as
playing jazz in distinguished company, he had worked, in New York and
elsewhere, in R & B and pop settings and with classical ensembles and
Now, at the age of 51, he has finally released his first album as a leader.
Listening to it, immediately raises the question of why it has only
happened now. Here is a trumpeter with real musicianship and assured
technique. It was recorded, in January 2017, including 8 tracks with what
is I think a quintet with which he works regularly around New York (I
think, from memory, that my friend told me he had heard Bailey at Smalls in
that city) and 1 track with a different quintet which includes his wife
Janet Axelrod playing the flute, and cellist Leo Grinhausz.
The music on this album illustrates at least some aspects of this eclectic
trumpeter. His indebtedness to the trumpet line which runs through masters
such as Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and Woody Shaw is
clear enough, but it is never merely a matter of slavish imitation, so
that, even if he doesn’t appear to be especially innovative, Bailey’s own
work sounds ‘felt’, a personal expression, rather than merely ‘learned’.
His fluency in Latin jazz is striking (here evident in the versions of
tunes by two of the great masters of modern Brazilian music (Nascimento and
Gil). The mixture of idioms on the album makes a convincing case for
Bailey, through an album of unpretentious contemporary jazz, being both
thoroughly engaged and very engaging.
The fanfare-like opening of the first track, ‘Rhapsody’, is effectively a
summoning of attention to a new talent (new, at any rate, to those of us
unable to haunt the clubs of News York). That first track is one of seven
originals by Bailey. The title perhaps suggests something languorous and
dreamy, but Bailey’s rhapsody is exuberant and upbeat, with a bouncing (yet
swinging) rhythm. ‘Blues for Ella’ is a fairly rapid hard-bop blues,
crisply delineated, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on, say, a
Horace Silver album of the late 1950s. Bailey puts in some impassioned
playing here, controlled and ands always aware of the value of rests and
silence too. ‘Triplicity’ is more adventurous stuff, quite complex in its
way, but is equally impressive. Indeed, I have nothing negative to say
about Bailey’s playing or writing. Only if you insist that every jazz album
be at the cutting edge of stylistic innovation could you fail to enjoy this
fine example of the modern mainstream.
Bailey’s work is well supplemented (and complemented) by the rest of his
group(s). Stacy Dillard is, like Bailey, well established on the New York
jazz scene; he has recorded with figures such as Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Revis
and Oscar Perez and has been praised by both Roy Hargrove and Wynton
Marsalis, without really acquiring an international reputation commensurate
with his ability. He takes fine solos on both tenor and soprano saxes.
Guitarist John Hart has led albums for Blue Note (One Down, 1988)
and Concord (e.g. High Drama, 1995) and plays impressively
throughout this present album, both as part of the ensemble and as a
soloist. Anyone who has been listening to contemporary American jazz any
time since about 1990 will not be surprised to hear that bassist Cameron
Brown and drummer Victor Lewis prove to be major assets to this album:
Brown’s work complements that of Bailey beautifully on the charming ballad
‘Lovely Planet’, for example, and Lewis trades fours with the horns both
powerfully and sensitively on ‘Stepping Up’ (as well as doing
exemplary work everywhere else).
‘Morro Velho’ is a little different from the other tracks so-far mentioned,
both because of the difference in personnel/instrumentation, and because it
has more of a chamber jazz feel to it. ‘Chamber jazz’ sometimes seems to be
a phrase employed to call music anaemic in a relatively polite fashion.
That is certainly not what I mean to do here. Certainly ‘Morro Velho’ is
delicate rather than hard-blowing, but it is a very inadequate idea of jazz
that can’t find room for delicacy. The fusion of jazz, Brazilian and
classical sensibilities is magically achieved in this relatively short (not
much over five minutes) piece, on which Bailey’s quietly meditative
flugelhorn is a thing of beauty and cellist Leo Grinhauz plays with
delightful grace behind, below and around it.
I have found this whole album album, modest in its pretentions but rich in
its musicianship and invention, delightful and I urge others to hear it, if
possible (I have just checked and can report that In Real Time is
available on Spotify). I shall send a copy of this review to my New York
informant – thank you Richard O’Sullivan.