Trumpeter Roy Campbell has flown under the radar for quite a while as one of the truly underrated brass players in modern mainstream and creative improvised jazz. What will loft his rising further is in the hands of listeners and poll voters, but what makes him unique is the ability to carve his personal identity into each project, live it, embrace it, and make it a unified whole different from his previous efforts. This CD documents the world premiere of his Akhenaten Suite, presented at the 12th annual Vision Festival in New York City. It's a seven-part magnum opus, with bookended stand-alone pieces on either side of the four-segment "Pharaoh's Revenge." All throughout this live concert, violinist Billy Bang plays tandem melody lines with Campbell, rarely stepping outside that partnership. It's a fickle sonance that deserves close attention, very much in tune with each other's fragile but wondrous timbres. They also take quite a few liberties with extended solos, while vibraphonist Bryan Carrott adopts a subsidiary harmonic role. The Afrocentric spirit waltz "Akhenaten" starts the set with Campbell's splattery overblown harmonic horn bearing down over Bang's searching violin and the steady, churning drumming of Zen Matsuura. The closer, "Sunset of the Nile," is a perfectly titled and rendered closer, very similar to John Coltrane's work in the mid-'60s that straddles the line between Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and Harold Land's epic "Pakistan" from his landmark LP Damisi, sporting a samba-driven bassline from Hilliard Greene. The suite proper, dedicated to the Pharaohs of Egypt circa 1350 B.C., starts with a free recorder and Sun Ra-type percussive statement across Bang's sighing violin, followed by a 4/4 modal desert caravan trek that is straightforward and not complex, and then another free episode sounding like birds of the Nile, with Greene's bowed bass and Campbell on the argol/arghul. The hard-charging finale expresses the wrath and ultimate vengeful exultation of the urgent, beautiful, and dutiful Pharaoh. The sound quality of this performance is a bit thin and sparse, but more volume cures this slight criticism. The jazz world is all too aware that Roy Campbell has a definitive statement within him, and though more interplay and development of themes are needed here, there is an overall good end result on this ambitious first outing of what could eventually wind up being his signature large composition.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos