by Allen Jones & Giovanni Russonello
CapitalBop contributor & editorial board
More than just a jazz trumpeter, Russell Gunn uses sounds to expound on a life in the musical trenches. His compositions on Love Requiem and the Grammy-nominated Ethnomusicology Vol. 1, both released in 1999, showed his ability to stretch the art form to his own expressive needs. In his work ever since, he has pushed the envelope with his ideas of how a jazz album can sound.
After a stint on the scene in St. Louis, Gunn came to New York as a member of the Oliver Lake Quintet, during jazz’s neoclassical period of the mid-1990s. He stood out with a focused trumpet sound rooted in bebop and the blues, but bolstered by a prescient vision that made room for the influence of hip-hop, funk and jazz’s avant-garde. It didn’t take long for him to make his debut at Lincoln Center as a part of Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Fields opera. This would be a promising course of action for any young musician, but what he did with this platform is the most interesting.
Gunn says that his first musical inspiration came from LL Cool J, and it makes sense: Golden age hip-hop is arguably just as strong and fertile an influence as is his knowledge of Lee Morgan’s catalogue. To introduce his latest solo album, Ethnomusicology Vol 6, he uses a humorous skit involving a record label executive and his evil minion, discussing the trouble that Gunn plans to wreak on the jazz establishment. He is certainly an iconoclast: Sometimes Gunn will layer a familiar set of jazz standard chord changes over a hip-hop drum machine and turntable scratches, and add his own melody. Or he’ll use his horn as the dominant texture while a variety of synthesizers swell underneath, and throw a sample from a movie on top of it all.
This weekend, Gunn presents his most recent project, a collaboration with the soul singer Dionne Farris that resulted in the 2013 album Dionne Get Your Gunn, during a two-night run at Bohemian Caverns. We caught up with Gunn to discuss his career, the state of jazz and what he likes about co-leading a band with a talented vocalist from outside the jazz world. Continue reading