Blindfold Test: Jason Palmer


Jason Palmer

(Photo: Jimmy Katz)

In 2007, DownBeat named Jason Palmer one of “25 Trumpeters for the Future,” and 14 years later, he has done nothing to dispel that prognosis, winning the 2009 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition and going on to contribute to more than 50 albums as a sideman or leader.

His latest album, 12 Musings For Isabella (Giant Step Arts), is a concert suite inspired by the theft of 12 art pieces from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Palmer has spent more than two decades in that city, transitioning quickly from a gifted student at the New England Conservatory to a heralded professor of jazz at Berklee College of Music, as well as at NEC and Harvard.

DownBeat caught up with Palmer, who offered insights on the music via video chat from Spokane, Washington, his residence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ingrid Jensen/Steve Treseler

“Kind Folk” (Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler, Whirlwind, 2018) Jensen, trumpet and effects; Treseler, tenor saxophone; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Martin Wind, bass; Jon Wikan, drums.

For the composition, I’d say 4 to 4½ stars. Kudos to the trumpet player for telling a story in such an eloquent and interesting way. In terms of even approaching the instrument, there was a lot of cool false fingering that was happening in the mid to upper register. I felt the trumpet player was taking some really unique risks on the horn, so I was really impressed by that. If it’s not Kenny Wheeler, it’s somebody that’s influenced by Kenny. I’m leaning towards Ingrid Jensen on this one.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

“Incarnation: Chief Adjuah–Idi Of The Xodokan,” (Axiom, Ropeadope, 2020) Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, trumpet, sirenette, reverse flugelhorn, percussion; Elena Pinderhughes, flute; Alex Han, alto saxophone; Lawrence Fields, piano, keyboards; Kris Funn, bass; Weedie Braimah, djembe, congas, bata; Corey Fonville, drums, sampler.

I’m going to give that trumpet performance all the stars. I’m pretty sure that’s Christian Scott, his latest live record. He really writes to his strengths. Just to hear him play in F minor, I could hear him play in that key all day. Although this is a live record, over the past 12 to 15 years, his sound on the trumpet is probably one of my favorite recorded sounds that’s been documented in the studio. His sound is as huge as a truck, his ideas are clear, and his upper register is very clear.

I met Christian when he first moved to Boston. He’s one of the leading lights in the young trumpet movement.

John Daversa

“#22” (Cuarentena: With Family At Home, Tiger Turn, 2020) Daversa, trumpet; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion.

Whew, man! Give that player all the stars. That’s a tough one to put a finger on because of the mute. At first, I was thinking it could be someone like Jeremy Pelt, but then I started listening to the content of the ideas. It made me lean more towards a player like Mike Rodriguez. Whoever this trumpet player is, it’s just phenomenal. I’m going to check out more of this player if I haven’t already. Just to be able to get around and be so clear with the Harmon mute, that’s not easy to do if you don’t do it all the time.

Jonathan Finlayson

“Feints” (3 Times Round, Pi, 2018) Finlayson, trumpet; Steve Lehman, alto saxophone; Brian Settles, tenor saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano; John Hébert, bass; Craig Weinrib, drums.

Dynamite! That is my cup of tea right there. If I get this wrong, I should be ashamed of myself, but there is something to be said for players throughout the history of this music who have forged an identity via their ideas, as opposed to their sound. This song has a real strong M-BASE bent to it. My guess would be Jonathan Finlayson. I think that may be Steve Lehman on alto.

Whoever’s playing trumpet on here, their playing is so dynamic and original, to the point where I would call it “specialty trumpet.”

Dan Rosenboom

“Heliopteryx” (Absurd In The Anthropocene, Orenda, 2020) Rosenboom, cornet; Gavin Templeton, alto saxophone; Tim Lefebvre, bass, electronics; Zach Danziger, drums; Troy Zeigler, electronics.

For the composition and the playing, I’d say 4½ stars. The composition and the production were impressive. The trumpeter is somebody that I haven’t checked out at all or enough of, but I have a few guesses. Based on the sound design of this, maybe Rob Mazurek. Or, there’s a cat that I’ve been checking out recently named Daniel Rosenboom, or Peter Evans. Great flexibility, nice extended techniques. Real grungy overall. I like the lack of abandon they play with. No fear in that music.

The Birdland Stars (The East-West Jazz Septet)

“Two Pairs Of Aces” (The Birdland Stars On Tour, Vol. 1., RCA Victor, 1956) Conte Candoli, Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Phil Woods, alto saxophone; Al Cohn, tenor saxophone; Hank Jones, piano; John Simmons, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

The first trumpet player on this one sounds like the man of a thousand substitutions, Kenny Dorham. And to think of the style of the alto player, my guess would be someone like Herb Geller, assuming it could be a West Coast session. The other trumpet player was playing a few Dizzy-isms. I keep wanting to say Joe Gordon, but I don’t think he played with Kenny Dorham at any point. ... But when I heard KD, that’s 5 stars.

Jaimie Branch

“Waltzer” (Fly Or Die, International Anthem, 2017) Branch, trumpet; Tomeka Reid, cello; Jason Ajemian, bass; Chad Taylor, drums.

I’d give it 4.25 stars. This trumpet player at the beginning wasn’t speaking as profoundly as toward the middle and the end part. And then the trumpet player took the mute out and really started to warm the horn up. To me, it almost sounded like two different people.

It could be a young trumpet player named Jaimie Branch, that I knew in Boston, though she may be in New York by now. Either Jaimie, or Wadada [Leo Smith], but I think he uses more space than that. Taylor Ho Bynum is my other guess. [after] She has this kind of yin-yang thing in her sound, where she can really push the horn or play it in a less aggressive way. Not many players have that kind of duality in their playing. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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