If you’re a lover of horns, this one should quite literally be music to your ears. Not one, not two, not three, but FOUR horn players together, trading licks, getting funky and making beautiful music together. Had never heard of this record or this outfit before running into this record and that wild cover at one of the Boston Bob’s pop-ups at Rappcats. The artwork was enough to get me to put it in my pile, but the fact that the group had four horn players, each on a different type of trumpet (B flat, E Flat piccolo, B flat piccolo and F Alto) was super intriguing. When I was younger I played (well, more like attempted to play) trumpet, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the instrument, but I’d never heard of all these varieties, let alone imagine them all playing together in a jazz sextet. But here they are, played by Bobby Lewis, George Bean, Art Hoyle and Russ Iverson, with Jerry Coleman on the skins and the legendary Rufus Reid on bass to round out the ensemble, a group that had it’s roots in the Chicago jazz scene.
A quick needle drop on the lead track “Incantation” was all that was needed to cause a big broad smile to spread across my face. Starting with those cracking open drums and going right into some quintessentially 1970s sounding horn lines would have been cool enough, and I’m sure a lot of beat heads would have preferred the group to just lay right there in the pocket, but the Forefront had much bigger ideas in mind than simple grooves (as you can see below from the song descriptions from the back cover, with the four songs I’m sharing brought together through a slight photo edit). Even on “Frump Trump,” which is described as a “boogaloo,” the band still shifts tempo and melody in interesting ways beyond a “regular” jazz-funk sound.
For me though, they really shine on two of the less funky pieces on the album, “Reverberations,” and “That Which Has Vanished.” On “Reverberations” they make great use of the complimentary sounds of the horn players, with two players often playing each others lines, though with one slightly behind in order to give it a natural reverb/echo effect. The track would have been a marvel if it had just been a single player, overdubbing multiple parts, but knowing that there are minimal effects at work and four players playing live, simultaneously with each other, makes the track all the more stunning. “That Which Has Vanished” is described as a “very deep and intense piece,” and if the music wasn’t enough to prove that the band even quotes (in the notes below) from T.S. Eliot’s classic poem “The Hollow Men.” In addition to the work of the quartet of horns, there’s some really lovely bowed bass from Reid on this track, which was the first written by the group, and might be my favorite of the bunch. All told, this is one of only a number of times where an evocative and unique cover is perfectly matched to the music inside on the album.