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The joy and
despair of life

Richard Boulger - Blues Twilight
(b-1 Music)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 14, 2008
Richard Boulger

Review by Brad Walseth

There are trumpet players in Jazz like Chris Botti and Chet Baker who will lull you into a dreamy haze with their lyrical sound, and there are others who will flat out hit you full in the face and knock you senseless: Richard Boulger is one of the latter. Not that he doesn't play with a beautiful tone or depth of feeling, because he certainly does, but Boulger is primarily a high-octane powerhouse on his horn, and I for one, wouldn't have it any other way. Blues Twilight is some "kick ass" Jazz, with a bit of a '60s/'70s sound, some intriguing compositional twists and excellent playing from an exceptional group of high energy players.

Studies with people like Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard have clearly influenced Boulger's writing skills and his tunes are both intelligent and tough, melodious, but contorted, joyous, yet sad. Even when writing love songs or tributes to his mother or father, Boulger avoids the simplistic or maudlin way out and instead fashions songs that are layered with nuances the listener will enjoy unraveling through repeated listenings.

Additionally, as they say, "timing is everything." Boulger's timing in recording this album not only captured the late bassist Dennis Irwin, who passed away last month, but also saved for posterity the wonderful playing of the late John Hicks, whose unique style and original phrasings were criminally underappreciated in his lifetime. This recording is a stellar tribute to both musicians.

These three are joined by drummer Victor Jones, underrated saxophonist David Schnitter, Kris Jensen on tenor and flute, and up and coming piano star Anthony Wonsey on four tracks. Boulger's horn wails and sings on numbers like the mysterious opener "The Eternal One," the Hubbard-ish title track and the stellar "The Other Side" (maybe my current favorite), while Hicks is the perfect foil with his startling harmonies and sometimes jarring rhythms. Schnitter and Jensen provide excellent front-line complement to their leader with sensitive and energetic playing, and the use of tenor, soprano and flute (as well as muted trumpet) paints a broad swathe of sound. Songs like "Letting Go," the ballads "A Flower for Mary" and "Tears" and the almost jaunty "Miss Sarah" and swinging "Have You Met Mr. Jones," impress with the clarity and maturity of composition. Through it all, Jones provides the dynamo, with Irwin's melodious woody bass locked in sync.

Between the full-fledged compositions, Boulger also adds two short meditative solo improvisation" and one incredible improvised horn and drum duet with Jones ("Perceptions"). These aren't there as filler, but serve to break things up and bridge sections, contributing to the overall aura, while showcasing Boulger's mastery of his horn. When Irwin leads off the final tune, the hard-charging, triumphant "Time Flies," it is a fitting resolve to an album, through which runs the feeling of the joy of life and the despair at its fleeting impermanence, hand in hand, in the blue twilight.

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