Jazz CD Review: Hugh Ragin Feel The Sunshineby Paul Serralheiro
/ October 2, 2002
Justin Time JUST
182-2 (69 min 10 sec)
This third album on the Justin Time label by
trumpeter Hugh Ragin delivers a healthy serving of the traditional/free jazz
fusionist's stylistic and technical fluency. In the nearly seventy minutes of
music we go from the exciting exoticism of Ellingtonia ("Caravan") through
meditative lyricism ("Feel the Sunshine," "Pain"), earthy funk rhythms ("Gulf
Coast Groove," "Freedom Jazz Dance"), explosive avant-gardisms ("Hugh's Blues,"
"Mastermind") to a masterly reading of a ballad standard ("Easy Living"). And
the whole listening adventure ends in a humorous two-minute solo-trumpet epigram
that explores the timbral character of the instrument.
The most striking feature of
Ragin's playing here is the convincing manner in which he weaves theme
statements and solo elaborations with the potentially clashing strands of
traditional, euphonious playing on the one hand and dissonant "out"
inventiveness on the other. That and his tone--a combination of high register
wizardry and rich middle and low playing--make for a potent musical
After thirty years in the business, Ragin's career is now hitting full
stride. An educator and erstwhile sideman with the likes of avant-gardists David
Murray, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton and Sun-Ra and
mainstreamers Maynard Ferguson and James Brown, Ragin is only now developing as
a leader. His compositional wings are also stretched here--as they were in
Afternoon in Harlem and Fanfare & Fiesta, his first and second
discs as leader.
A group of younger supporting
players with strong presence provides imaginative accompaniment. The rhythm
section is made up of Bruce Cox and Tanni Tabbal sharing drum duties, Jaribu
Shahib on the bass, and Craig Taborn on the piano. Assif Tsahar on tenor
saxophone and bass clarinet soars and dives along with Ragin in the melodic
statements. The group playing is pliable and complementary--each musician
bathing in the composer/leader's vocabulary and sensibilities, and echoing and
expanding compositional concepts and interpretative slants, which can perhaps be
summed up as encyclopedic in the handling of musical possibilities, while having
a spontaneous spirit and sure rhythmic drive.