Keyon Harrold ‘The Mugician’ (Sony) 2/5

Part of the Charles Tolliver big band that performed live on the 2008 recording at the Blue Note in New York, fellow trumpeter Keyon Harrold has branched out with a solo album for Sony, and this has echoes of other trumpeter influences without placing a distinctive marker of what Keyon Harrold is really about. Given the wonderful post-bop sound that Tolliver is renowned for, this mish-mash of urban black music is all the more disappointing.

The offering veers between hip-hop and rap-influenced beats with an easy listening approach to the instrumentation that this writer found off deeply putting. There are elements of the less than successful Miles Davis ‘Doo Bop’ last studio recording here (but even that is a notch or two above what the listener finds here) coupled with a film soundtrack quality that Terence Blanchard has already carved out. Enlisting numerous guest including members of his own family, the opener, ‘Voicemail’, features a lengthy monologue from Shirley Harrold and is one of the more melodic pieces, though the trumpet does get lost as elsewhere.

Whereas the likes of Erykah Badu successfully straddled neo-soul with elements of jazz, this album goes about matters in the opposite direction. It effectively fails to deliver with any meaty improvised passages, and the slick production may alienate even fans of hip-hop and rap who prefer a rawer sound and they are surely the only audience likely to be receptive to the music. Robert Glasper guest on piano here, with bass clarinet hinting further at Miles references via Marcus Miller, but this recording as a whole does not possess the depth of either musician.

Lengthy one page notes from actor-director Don Cheadle who has an affinity for jazz and directed the Miles biopic, cannot really save this project which is structurally unsound and lacks the true individual voice of the leader.

Tim Stenhouse