Album Review: “Love Stories” by Russell Gunn

love-stories1In the first of what hopefully is many Groove Notes “audio blogs” KPLU jazz host Robin LLoyd was asked “Who in jazz is doing it right these days?” Her response was trumpeter Russell Gunn (hear the whole audio blog at here).

This was certainly an answer I found easy to agree with, since I still consider myself a young trumpet player (even though it has been a while since I’ve picked up the horn, and I seem to be getting less young every day).

I’ve always found the recordings of Russell Gunn inventive, and his covers of older recordings are always very distinctly “Russell Gunn-ish”.

Love Stories, released in September of 2008, is far from the exception. In fact, it may become the prime example of how inventive and creative Gunn really is.

I should start by saying that Gunn refers to Love Stories as a hip-hop record. If that frightens you, don’t let it. I for one typically dislike what often seems a forced combination of modern beats mixed with jazz, especially if the goal of the record is simply to try and modernize jazz. Gunn doesn’t appear to be out on a mission to create a modern revolution, but instead to create sounds and songs that are enjoyable and follow a theme that doesn’t age: love.

The whole album follows the theme of love, as the title might suggest, touching that theme in a variety of ways. This is highlighted right off the bat with a tune called Love Requiem, a tune from one of Gunn’s previous releases, although it has been completely transformed. This transformation no doubt follows the transformation of the marriage Gunn was in, and as Gunn puts it “started my whole love-hate relationship with love in the first place”.

Gunn also touches on the kind of “love” found by some with a “weaker mind” by arranging a version of rapper T-Pain’s song I’m In Love with a Stripper.

The highlight of the album to me is a song called B***h, You Don’t Love Me. The changes are based on the changes to St. James Infirmary, and offers wonderful trumpet, sax, and piano solos on top of a beat that even the purest jazz fans might enjoy…might.

Sax men Brian Hogans (who Gunn suggests will be a top ten player), and Kirk Whalum offer two different attitudes, but both bring the type of energy and soloing that Russell Gunn would demand on an album of this nature.

While the debate over whether or not hip-hop and jazz might continue, please don’t let the thought of that mix, or the titles of the songs, scare you away from checking out this album. In fact, I would go so far to say that this album is the prototype of how the blend of pre-programmed sounds and sampling and acoustic sounds should be mixed.

Love Stories – Released September 9, 2008 on High Note Records

Russell Gunn – Trumpet, Keyboards, Drum Programming

Kirk Whalum – Tenor Saxophone

Mike Scott – Guitar

Montez Coleman – Drums

Orrin Evans – Piano, Keyboards

Carlos Henderson – Bass Guitar

Heidi Martin – Vocals

Brian Hogans – Alto Saxophone

Khalil Kwame Bell – Percussion

Groove Notes Album Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars