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Trumpeter/Composer John Raymond Takes a New Look At Jazz Tradition On "Foreign Territory"

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Raymond's Second CD, out April 28 via Fresh Sound/New Talent, features pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Joe Martin, and legendary drummer Billy Hart

Inspiration doesn’t have to come from reshaping the ground beneath one’s feet; the creative spark can also be ignited by exploring well-trod terrain with fresh eyes. On his sophomore CD, Brooklyn-based trumpeter/composer John Raymond ventures into Foreign Territory, taking a refreshing and exciting look at the jazz tradition with a set of original music that retains the music’s classic aspects while feeling entirely contemporary.

To realize his modern reimagining of traditional elements, Raymond assembled a stellar quartet that is uniquely qualified to seamlessly merge past and present. He called on two gifted peers—pianist Dan Tepfer, who has gone to further time-spanning extremes with his adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and bassist Joe Martin, who has worked with innovators like Kurt Rosenwinkel, {{Brad Mehldau, and Chris Potter—and a legend who helped to define the very tradition that Raymond is reexamining, drummer Billy Hart. Overseeing the session was the great horn player John McNeil, whom Raymond refers to as a mentor and “undercover jazz trumpet guru.”

Labeled “a prepossessing young trumpet player” by the New York Times, Raymond has worked with musicians such as John Abercrombie, Chris Potter, Ben Williams, Orrin Evans, Gilad Hekselman, Linda May Han Oh and Otis Brown III, and been featured at the FONT Festival, Winter Jazz Festival and Center City Jazz Festival. He has also distinguished himself as an elite horn arranger working with top gospel and R&B artists across the country, most clearly evidenced by the three GRAMMY-nominated songs for which he has arranged and recorded horns.

Foreign Territory is a vast departure from Raymond’s 2012 debut release, Strength & Song, which featured a more self-consciously “contemporary” sound with traces of rock and gospel influences. The Minneapolis-born trumpeter began his follow-up in the same vein, but the new music didn’t seem to fit with his vision. Around the same time, he connected with McNeil and the two began to convene regularly at the elder trumpeter’s house, where they’d discuss music and play standards together.

“That sparked a lot of revelations for me,” Raymond says. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on young musicians to be ‘innovative.’ But I noticed that I felt most relaxed and authentic and honest with myself when I was playing over standards or embracing the traditional aspects of the music. So I realized that I had to break free of the pressure that I was putting on myself to do something ‘new’ and instead decided to take familiar ideas and turn them on their heads to find something new inside each of them.”

That instinct didn’t lead Raymond to affect a ‘retro’ vibe, however; nothing on Foreign Territory feels like it’s trying to fetishize the past or imitate what’s gone before. Instead, Raymond simply recontextualizes standard chord progressions and forms in a modern sense, building a vital contemporary sound on classic foundations – sometimes quite literally. The stately but angular “Deeper,” for instance, was written on the chord progression from the Irving Berlin standard “How Deep Is the Ocean?” while the combustible “What Do You Hear?” is based on the changes to “I Hear a Rhapsody.” The new title also poses a question that Raymond asked himself often during the process of making the album, examining how to really listen to such well-known material.

Other tunes on the album aren’t linked quite so literally to standard predecessors. “Rest/Peace” is a free improvisation prompted by Horace Silver’s gorgeous ballad “Peace” that never does more than hint at the original melody. The tumultuous zig-zagging melody of “Adventurous-Lee” was written in homage to one of Raymond’s major influences, saxophonist Lee Konitz. “Chant” is a completely original tune evocative of a primordial chant, “New Blues” takes a new spin on a 24-bar blues, and “Hart of the Matter” excerpts a few moments of scintillating free improvisation by Hart, Tepfer and Martin caught in the studio. The album’s sole non-original is “Mark Time,” a piece by trumpet great Kenny Wheeler, who passed away last fall.

The album shares its title with the slow-burn opening track, the first song that Raymond ever wrote entirely on the trumpet. “In that way it was foreign territory for me,” he says. “I had to enter into this place where I didn’t entirely know what was going to happen. It’s a little terrifying because you’re going into something unknown and trying to hear your way through what you feel is really inspiring you. You have to trust your instincts to figure out what’s ahead of you even if you can’t see it totally clearly.”

Raymond’s incredible quartet was key to navigating that uncharted terrain, he says. “I think one of the biggest reasons I chose these guys for this music was because I knew that they were going to truly improvise. I knew they were going to take it to a place musically that was unknown and undiscovered. This was my vision from the start – to find a group of musicians that would bring such a high level of spontaneity to the music that it would create both a sense of mystery and a sense of joy in exploring the unknown.

At the age of 74, Billy Hart is an artist who fully embodies the spirit of simultaneously honoring and reimaging the tradition, having been a key player in the music’s last half-century. “We talk all the time about how as jazz musicians we want to be connected to the history and lineage, and Billy is not only part of that lineage but one of the people that has really shaped it,” Raymond says. “I feel like everything that Billy plays captures the essence of what this music has always been, and he’s always wanting to push the music in a direction that’s unknown, somewhere that you haven’t been before. From the beginning he’s shown a sincere interest in me and this music, and I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to take this music into foreign territory with me.”

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz Publicity.
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