It’s always refreshing to hear a new artist’s work that takes you to a special place. A place where you can escape to if only for a short while, as the song transports you from start to finish. Well, with first-rate trumpeter/composer/arranger Chris Klaxton’s new releases I became the latest impressed passenger! His artistry is born from a place that communicates freedom and connection to a universal groove that will beg of you to dance once you hear his music! He has the uncanny ability to pen a melody that sticks with you and leaves ample space in his compositions for improvisational contributions by all of his fellow bandmates. It is my sincere hope that the heartfelt music from this project as well as his future projects will continue to attract many curious passengers throughout this beautiful journey that we call life. You have a new loyal fan in me!!
Oftentimes the back story behind the motivation and inspiration for songs compiled on a record is just as fascinating as the music itself. Case in point is trumpeter Chris Klaxton, whose interest in subjects as diverse as astrophysics, the intellectual philosophies of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, and spiritual continuity of life, culminated in his recording Starcode. Though all of this might sound complicated when applied to jazz, his music is grounded and accessible,implemented with profound sensitivity.
The title track is actually three part intro segments which abruptly set up the next song with a cosmic message of urgency. "Billions" in reference to the galaxy system, is a progressive venture where Klaxton introduces his powerful trumpet voice. The following, is an unexpected take on Stephen Foster's "Hard Time," where vocalist Taylor O'Donnell twists this Americana classic into a somber gospel tinged lamentation. Then it's back to the future with "Exposheric," a journey to the outer regions of the atmosphere. Drummer Michael Piolet does a superb job of propelling this song forward and upward, as is vitally required for full effects.
"Next Time We Float Away/Quarter Note," drops down a few revolutions, offering light uplifting harmony as the trumpet tastefully soars into the clouds, before gliding back down. "Fictional Friends," is a swaying vocal number that allows sax man Mark Small to colorize the middle section. "The Land of Dreams," with lyrics by William Blake, again features Taylor O'Donnell singing a moving tribute to Klaxton's nephew who passed far too young. The trombone solo by Kendall Moore provides a semblance of a second line hymn, as the song flows into a memorial mode.
Chris Klaxton is a prime example of ambitious players who are coming up today and breathing new life into the music. Well-schooled by top trumpet masters, he not only has the chops, but also the unbounded imagination needed to transmit his ideas with music. His blending of cosmic jazz with earthy vocals in this occasion worked and can only serve to stimulate his sense of adventure in future endeavors.
In his debut album, Starcode, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, trumpeter Chris Klaxton shows a compositional poise that's modern in tone, adventurous in scope, but kept on a leash just long enough to keep everything in check. It's surprising how enjoyable this album is, on first listen and every play through all over again. The rhythm section of Mike Effenberger on rhodes, Josh Allen on bass, and Michael Piolet on drums are immensely gripping. Effenberger shimmers on the keys and maintains the spacey theme that Klaxton conveys in these compositions with great aplomb. Piolet's drums are crisp and Allen's bass has some bounce to it. This group alone would be worth the price of the album, but the rest of this band, including Mark Small on saxophone (didn't see that one coming), Tim Jago on guitar, Kendall Moore on trombone, and Taylor O'Donnell on vocals on a few tracks. The three-quarter hour album can get a serious bounce going, reign things in to a softer ballad, or make a slow build at points, but the constant revisiting of the "Starcode" theme throughout the album provides a nice through line for the album that gives the whole work a nice balance that makes for a great overall listen as well as for each individual track that may pop up on a play through shuffle. Starcode truly is as great as a whole as it is from its individual parts.
It's a particularly strong debut album that you should definitely check out. Klaxton has been around the block a few times, studying at the University of New Hampshire before working with Terence Blanchard, Dave Douglas, and others, but it's with this release that the artistic statement he's making is clearly his, and it clearly works.