DARREN ENGLISH — Imagine Nation (review)

DARREN ENGLISH — Imagine Nation album cover Album · 2016 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
Listening to “Imagine Nation”, its hard to believe that this is trumpeter Darren English’s first album, his playing and compositional skills sound far beyond a beginner. Darren has a well developed technique, and a bright clean sound reminiscent of Clifford Brown, or possibly Wynton Marsalis. When things get heated, he brings on a full brassy attack that recalls Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan. “Imagine Nation” opens up strong with an original rambunctious post bop workout that bears the title of the album. After this, Darren settles into a ballad rendition of “Body and Soul” and although it’s a nice version, it may seem like a non-sequitur after the opener, but that is the nature of this disc, its very eclectic. Whether or not this sort of eclecticism works is probably a matter of taste. I suppose you can’t blame Darren for using his first album as a leader to showcase the variety of skills he has.

If you are keeping score at home, here is the breakdown on the styles Darren presents on here; two high energy lengthy post bop numbers similar to Dave Douglas or Herbie’s VSOP, a couple of be-bop numbers that show English has a much better feel for this idiom than a lot of today’s players, a couple vocal numbers featuring Carmen Bradford, some rugged hard bop and a tone poem featuring the recorded voice of Nelson Mandela. It is a smorgasbord, but everything is handled with sensitivity to the style being played. Darren’s backup band handles the variety well too, with honorable mention going to Greg Tardy on sax, who really burns on the intense numbers, and unique pianist Kenny Banks Jr, who eschews pyrotechnics in favor of something interesting to say.

There is probably no harm in Darren presenting such a mish-mash on his first time out, his very polished technique comes through no matter what he is playing, but if he wants to grab more attention on future outings, he may want to refine his focus. His two original post bop numbers, “Imagine Nation” and “The Birth”, show the most promise for the future. Then again, if he ever wants to cut a retro album with his very be-bop sounding muted trumpet, it would probably be a blast too.
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