Jay Phelps ‘Free As The Birds’ CD/DIG (Ropeadope) 4/5

After a lengthy gap between albums from his fine 2010 debut, ‘Jay Walkin’, that rarely left this writer’s CD player for several months, the second offering is finally with us. A broken rib and other travels around the globe resulted in an extended delayed return to the studio and, not surprisingly, perhaps, the sound has move on somewhat, though in essence still paying homage to his two most significant trumpet influences, Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. Now signed to the hip Ropeadope label, the music has a stronger contemporary feel to it, even though the acoustic classicism of the first recording is not far from the surface and there is now a tentative attempt at vocalising with mixed results, it has to be said. A real grower of a number is, ‘Everyone’s Ethnic’, with a Caribbean flavour on the rim-drum effect and piano vamps, and here the trumpet solo is fiery, with the quartet in top form. In a slightly more left-field avenue, ‘Flash’ evokes the Ornette Coleman-Don Cherry partnership, In live performance in London earlier this year with the quartet, Jay Phelps was willing to take on as adventurous a piece as ‘Agitation’, which is directly out of Miles Davis’ 1965 freer expression period with the classic quintet. A pity, then, that track is not contained on this album, nor is that approach showcased save the odd number.

Fender Rhodes accompaniment features heavily on several pieces and is especially effective in combination with double bass on ‘Chombalay Chill’, and the excellent Fender musings on ‘Shit: Freedom in the Studio’, is an impromptu piece that works, as does the lovely, gentler sound of the trumpet and Fender in tandem on ‘Amphitrite Beauty’. There are even shades of Freddie Hubbard in his prime on ‘Spread’, which is one of the strongest compositions. Brazilian sounding influences suddenly emerge four-fifths of the way in with both the fast-paced title track and the all too brief, but nevertheless exhilarating ‘Fab Outro (Batata)’, where this writer would definitely like to hear more of Phelps in this vein. Does the contemporary update work for Jay Phelps? It may well attract an audience beyond the traditional confines of jazz as long as the trumpeter stick to what he does best, which is playing his preferred music instrument of choice and dispenses with some of the contrived hand clapping and overly intrusive drum beat, as evidenced on ‘Angel’. A welcome return to the fold all the same.

Check out our interview with Jay from 2015 here

Tim Stenhouse