Brian Horton’s jazz roots reflected in gospel-sounding tunes

September 28, 2013 


If the term “brand new day” sounds like a phrase from a gospel hymn, it’s an apt reference to tenor and soprano saxophonist and flutist Brian Horton’s jazz roots and sound. The Kinston native and graduate of N.C. Central University, where he has returned as a visiting professor, exudes soulfulness, sanctification and the blues.

Originals such as his “Sound of Celebration,” “Mother's Day” and “Sister Faith” evoke the hand-clapping, shouting, dancing-in-the-aisles church and, on occasion, the more reflective church. Pianist Ernest Turner, bassist Ameen Saleem and drummer Kobie Watkins aren't just Horton’s rhythm section, they’re his deacons grooving in “amen” corner.

“Brand New Day” reinforces the notion of jazz as celebratory music. While Horton displays plenty of chops, he avoids the pitfall of sounding like he’s in a jazz studies class. Instead, the description “street cred” comes to mind, a phrase that applies equally to the rhythm section.

On “A Weaver of Dreams,” the Victor Young-John Elliott standard, Saleem provides a skippy, perfect-tempo walk behind Horton’s measured tenor phrases that lifts the performance as if the musicians were dancers. On “Mother's Day,” Turner's stride piano introduction sets up a spacious tenor solo, offering another insight into Horton's style: Even at his busiest he doesn’t crowd his solos. There is plenty of evidence throughout the album that Watkins (who is also veteran tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ drummer of choice these days) is the ideal percussionist.

Horton’s soprano performances tend toward the playful side, especially on his notey “B Train in A Flat” and his “Sister Faith.” And on his one outing on flute, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go,” he offers a tender, full-toned reading. With this album, Horton seems destined for higher ground.

Correspondent Owen Cordle

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