Terell Stafford

Centripetal Force

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Centripetal Force is a good title for this CD, Terell Stafford's second as a leader. In physics, it describes how separate energies gravitate toward the center; here, the center is more than Stafford's beautiful horn -- there's a warm calm at the core of this music, regardless of tempo. Some of this comes from familiarity, since Stafford, Stephen Scott, and Victor Lewis were bandmates in Bobby Watson's hard bop '90s group, Horizon. But there's nothing hard about this release, which is full of soul and heart. Stafford's playing is clean, fluid, and expressive, whether he's going flat-out on an incandescent "Old Devil Moon" or being achingly tender describing "My Romance," accompanied only by Scott's eloquent piano. On the purely beautiful "A Child Is Born," he duets with Russell Malone, who also delivers memorable solos on the relaxed and swinging "Skylark" and Lewis' high-energy opener, "Addio." Stafford offers two fine compositions of his own: the haunting "I'll Wait," with subtle percussion (including bird sounds) supplied by Daniel Moreno, and "Mia," an intriguing mix of light and shadow that balances Stefon Harris' pearly vibe tones with Stafford's smoky flugelhorn and the honey of John Clark's French horn. Stafford's talent for building solos is especially evident on Scott's "For the Broken Hearted," which is more lively than its title suggests. An exciting "Dahoud" and a loving ballad tribute to Stafford's grandmother round out the ten tracks by these ten superb musicians. But while there's plenty of brilliance here, there's no trace of flash: Stafford goes straight for the honest meaning in every tune. And whether his tone is golden or growling, muted or crystalline, he communicates straight to the listener's center.

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