By Howard Mandel | Published November 2021
Trumpeter Russell Gunn has created a complex, grandiose and perplexing album in The Sirius Mystery as composer, arranger, orchestrator and producer, playing not a note. It’s the third of a series he began in 2018 with Get It How You Live, second in a triology started with Pyramids in 2019, and employs the collage-like orchestral concept he’s developed since his breakthrough Ethnomusicology volumes launched in 1999. Wynton Marsalis blows his butt off, unleashed and fiery, on “The Dogon,” and trumpeter Melvin Jones adds a heroic, golden solo on “The Nummo Fish.”
Gunn’s Atlanta-based large ensemble threads intricate settings, richly voiced episodes and dramatic counterpoint through theatrical narration referring to African history and Afro-futuristic fantasies. Two drummers on separate channels provide flow despite changeups; ringing cymbals and clattering percussion top the mix, which includes what seem to be clips of African girls singing from field recordings. Heavenly voices float through, as do blues riffs and a chorus of breaths; soundtrack-like themes morph into wild synth rides or explode in collective improvisation.
The Sirius Mystery isn’t clearly revealed or resolved, but it’s fun to hear.
The Sirius Mystery: Sirius B–The Unseen Absolute (Intro); The Dogon–Primordial Permanence; Amma’s Egg–The Structure Of Matter; The Nummo Fish–Natatory Astronauts; (Bonus Track) Amma’s Egg–The Structure Of Matter (Alternate Version). (43:25)
Personnel: Russell Gunn, composition, arrangements, orchestrations, conductor; Wynton Marsalis, Lee King, Melvin Jones, Terence Harper, trumpets; Dashill Smith, trumpet, vocals, bass clarinet; Diane Farris, Dashill Smith, vocals; Derrick Jackson, Derrick White, Will Williams, Tom Gibson, trombones; Mike Burton, Marquinn Mason, alto saxophones; Mike Walton, Fareed Mahluli, tenor saxophone; Jamel Mitchell, baritone saxophone; Rasheeda Ali, flute; Phil Davis, keyboards; Kevin Bales, piano; Tres Gilbert, bass; Lil John Roberts, Terreon Gully, drums; Rod Harris Jr., guitar; Ali Barr, percussion. Additional musicians, from original small group session: Louis Heriveaux, piano; Brian Hogans, alto saxophone; Morgan Guerin, EWI; Darren English, trumpet; Delbert Felix, bass; Kebbi Williams, tenor saxophone.
Ordering Info: ropeadope.com