The year-long incubation of trumpeter Russell-Gunn’s 19-piece Royal Krunk Orchestra has paid off with dividends. As realized by a stellar cast of mostly Atlanta-based musicians, Gunn’s compositions meld jazz, hip-hop, R&B, funk and a few other idioms into an easily accessible set that entertains without abandoning a discernible seriousness.
The absence of Gunn’s name from the CD cover art reveals the leader’s commitment to making this project a truly cooperative effort. For example, of the four trumpet features, Gunn delivers only one, playing the penetrating lead voice to his a cappella horn arrangement on the Spanish-tinged “If I Ever Fall in Love.” Trumpeter Theo Croker blows crafty inside-outside jazz over Wes Funderburk’s arrangement of the funk-laden “Sybil’s Blues” and renders 1970s Bill Chase high-note trumpet voicings. Trumpeter Melvin Jones solos hot to the cool strains of “Lyne’s Joint” — also a Funderburk chart. And trumpeter Darren English plays heady backgrounds to the spoken-word title-track intro.
Vocals are a big part of Krunk’s identity. Dionne Farris, a standout of the 1990s Love Jones movie soundtrack via “Hopeless” (“as a penny with a hole in it”), updates the tune backed by Krunk’s mega-horns. Also revived and revised are the R&B covers in “Switch Medley” — “There’ll Never Be,” “A Brighter Tomorrow” and “I Call Your Name” — beefed up by a finessing rhythm section and a veritable wall of brass.
Brian Hogan’s alto and Mike Walton’s tenor show how straightahead-jazz blowing works just fine over the pure funk of “The Critic’s Song,” replete with Dashill Smith vocal. No longer do specific grooves demand one particular style of soloing — it’s all good. And that’s the point that Gunn makes with this music. His permissible double negative in the intro says it all: “Nobody is vibing nobody.”— James Rozzi