Greg Duncan – Trumpet, flugelhorn
Doug Rosenberg – Tenor saxophone
Ben Lewis – Piano
Joel Kelsey – Bass
Xavier Breaker – Drums
Chicago-based trumpeter Greg Duncan is an award-winning composer, and the reasons for this accolade are evident on his third release, Unification. Duncan contributes seven out of nine tracks on the recording, and the music is inspired by the theories of Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung. (Duncan is donating half of the proceeds from album sales to Mental Health America, the organization dedicated to improving lives of those living with psychiatric illness.)
Duncan intricately crafts his originals and makes them simultaneously engaging and provocative. He channels various moods through alternation of melodic lines that sound divergent, but are complementary. “Constellated” has subtle tension in the otherwise mellow ambience. Duncan’s burnished horn and saxophonist Doug Rosenberg’s organic and warm tones undulate mellifluously over pianist Ben Lewis’ crystalline, crisp chords. Later, Lewis takes center stage with complex and angular improvisation that is tinged with the blues. Duncan’s soaring, ardent notes add a fiery touch to the dramatic piece.
The up-tempo “Thinking Light” is a cinematic tune with shifting colors. The effervescent, rhythmic flourishes enhance Duncan’s breezy, Latin-tinged performance. Rosenberg blows buoyant and passionate phrases, building an intriguing and vibrant extemporization with agility and grace.
Even the shorter compositions pack emotion and substance. The energetic and stimulating “Intro to the Subconscious” opens the disc with a bang. Drummer Xavier Breaker, who drives the ensemble with his propulsive beats, takes his turn in the spotlight with thunderous polyrhythms.
One of the two covers is saxophonist Branford Marsalis’ “Say Hey.” The contemplative, mystical ballad opens with the front line’s yearning melody, Lewis’ resonant cascading refrains, Breaker’s shuffling brushes and bassist Joel Kelsey’s thumping strings. Kelsey’s lyrical and eloquent solo evolves with suave introspection and tender emotion over both Breaker’s and Lewis’ individual understated vamps. The musings of each quintet member coalesce into a satisfying and pensive finale.
Unification is a mature, cohesive work of mainstream jazz and balances the accessibility and intellectual appeal, primarily due to Duncan and his sidemen’s superb musicianship along with the trumpeter’s captivating artistic vision.