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Veteran trumpeter and composer Wallace Roney experiments with ensemble chemistry on this bracing eight-track set, and the results radiate dynamism and innovation. The 59-year-old former Miles Davis protégé taps the youthful energy of a core group that includes two teenagers at one end of the age scale while carving out a significant role for famed fusion drummer Lenny White, a spry 70, at the other. With several other youngsters in the mix, and the recording brilliance achieved at the historic Rudy Van Gelder studio, the session chalks up high scores on every front.
A subtle recognition of the Davis connection is imparted with the set’s high-spirited opener. “Bookendz,” a piece by multi-instrumentalist Wayne Linsey written for but never recorded by the late trumpeter, charges from the gate with a barrage of jagged, funk-laced rhythms by two drummers — White and the leader’s 15-year old nephew Kojo Odu Roney. Pianist Oscar Williams II solos with dancing lines and billowy chords that float lazily over the churning pulse. Bassist Paul Cuffari is the tendon that connects the percussive elements, while Quintin Zoto’s streetwise guitar voicings provide a welcome, tart accent. Roney’s solo demonstrates his penchant for melodic invention and technical daring. Claiming much of the glory, however, is 19-year-old saxophone phenom Emilio Modeste, whose soprano foray here is the definition of youthful exuberance unleashed.
While Modeste authored two works for the session and Williams one, it is the Lenny White composition “Wolfbane” that deserves special attention. Framed by a slow funk rhythm and a two-bar melodic fragment drawn from Middle Eastern modes, the track, with Modeste featured on tenor, effortlessly blends funk, bop and free jazz into a trance-inducing masterwork. The enchanting “Why Should There Be Stars” highlights the core rhythm section’s stylistic adaptability — and Roney’s masterful ballad playing — while underscoring the set’s laudable stylistic range and exquisite musicianship.— Mark Holston