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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 2

Jazz CD Review: Hugh Ragin Feel The Sunshine

by Paul Serralheiro / October 2, 2002

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Hugh Ragin
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 statement.

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.

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