The shadow of past masters can be a cold, dark place for a young jazz trumpeter. If he’s anywhere near good, grappling with notes and new phrases is just not enough; he has to also navigate through treacherous comparisons with the likes of Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Most fail, some survive and only a select shine.
When Jeremy Pelt hits the high registers, he makes the shadows dance and walks on the glowing path of great music that forgets nothing of where it came from but points unhesitatingly to the interesting places it is going. Hitting his groove at the turn of the new century, Pelt is much in demand as a horn blower who unceasingly surprises in each new album in his half a score discography as a leader.
His latest offering, Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries (2014), released in January this year, is proof enough, if indeed any is needed, that the trumpeter still isn’t chary of experimenting despite establishing his distinct voice to the jazz mainstream. In a rare instance, the album features two drummers, Billy Drummond and Victor Lewis, who push the musical narrative with Pelt with bassist Ben Allison and pianist Simona Premazzi providing worthy support. Premazzi is particularly probing with rhythmic variations and her work bears watching out for. The stand-out numbers include Harlem Thoroughfare, Ruminations on Eric Garner and The Old Soul of the Modern Day Wayfarer.
Just to demonstrate how different Pelt can be, his latest is miles distant from Men of Honor (2010), in which he gathered an excellent band with J.D. Allen on tenor sax, Dwayne Bruno on bass, Danny Grissett on piano and Gerald Cleaver on percussions for a more mainstream session that’s reminiscent of Hubbard and Davis in their pre-electric days. The influences of the past are clearly evident in Men of Honor, which doesn’t of course stop it from becoming an elegant vehicle of Pelt’s unique voicing and well-crafted compositions.
Born in 1976 in California, Pelt studied film scoring at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and moved to New York in 1998. He started playing professionally in the Mingus Big Band and played as sideman for luminaries such as Cedar Walton, Ravi Coltrane, Frank Wess and Jimmy Heath before releasing albums under his own leadership, starting with Profile (2002). He started attracting attention almost immediately and was praised by critics for November (2008).
To my mind, his breakout album was Men of Honor, my first acquaintance with the firebrand trumpeter. Sticking with that same quintet, Pelt released a couple of more critically acclaimed albums, The Talented Mr. Pelt (2011) and Soul (2012), one a bebop-inflected blast and the other a bouquet of ballads. Soul, in particular, was named one of the best jazz albums of the year by listeners and critics alike. Never the one to lose his forward momentum, Pelt showed that he was equally adept in frenetic soloing as he was with melodic ruminations.
Pelt has perhaps been best described by band mate Allen, an emerging tenor saxophonist who has since released interesting albums of his own. “I could tell right away that this cat meant business,” Allen was quoted an article in All About Jazz web site. “It seemed like his trumpet had a serious love affair with him.”
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