Chuck Curry is a talented trumpet player, vocalist, composer and arranger. The musicians that he has assembled play together with intelligence and ease. Soloists come forward and decisively own their moments, then melt back into a well-balanced and blended ensemble. The rhythm section is equally adept at insistently driving a song forward, as in Place for Me and I’m Home, or letting a song unfold with supple, unhurried grace, as in Look to the Rainbow and 1000 Times. There are songs here to please a variety of tastes, from lushly orchestrated ballads to Latin Jazz to beatboxing.
In this review, I’ll focus on three songs. This is not to slight the others; every track on this album is solid. But each listener will have his or her favorites, and mine happen to be Place for Me, 1000 Times and Breeze Off the River. Place for Me is just the right way to start the album. Ron James on drums and John Willis on bass drive the tune relentlessly forward, while the comping of Beth Lederman on Piano is overlaid lightly on top. Ellie Hoffman’s Baritone Sax rises up from below with a fat and satisfying riff. I love how Adam Armijo’s fluid guitar work flows right over the top of the horn ensemble.
1000 Times is a song that makes me smile. In just a few bars, this one would bring out the best old dancers on to the dance floor—the ones who know each other’s moves without thinking, and rest on each other as gently as snowflakes on a branch. In particular, Beth Lederman’s piano is delightful; she has a light touch and knows how to fill the spaces with just the right amount of notes—not too few and not too many. The strings are tastefully arranged, and the solos by Curry on Flugelhorn and Ted Belledin on Tenor Sax nestle perfectly into the soft bed the rhythm section has laid down for them. Vocally, Curry is at his best on this song. This is a fine tune; I could listen to it… well, a thousand times.
Listeners who are parents might feel a special affinity for Breeze Off the River. This is a beautiful song on many levels. I love the sincerity of the lyrics and the simplicity of the vocal delivery. Curry’s instincts are just right; he knows when to speak a line instead of singing it, he knows when to slip into falsetto, he knows when to open up the pipes, and he knows when to let a lyric land softly on the ear so that the emotion lingers.
As I said before, each track is strong. Curry’s interpretation of Look to the Rainbow is worthy of the praise a previous reviewer has already given it; I would say it demonstrates many of the same qualities that I found appealing in 1000 Times. The energy and layered complexity of songs like I’m Home and Place for Me are a good contrast to the ballads. I like how Curry’s trumpet cascades over the top of the very busy percussion and strings on I’m Home. Tizoc Guerrero on percussion adds a lot of life to this tune. The more relaxed Latin groove of Morning is fun, and as the only instrumental on the album, it features some nice solo work by Curry on trumpet and by Joe Corral on flute. In fact, throughout the album many musicians shine on solos—too many to mention here by name. Hats off to them all. Also, my failure to mention certain tracks should not be taken as dismissal. Listen to the album and decide for yourself what moves you. I recommend Late Bloom, and am looking forward to more from Chuck Curry.