In this, his debut recording as a leader, trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer Horton pushes the progressive mainstream envelope with music that is witty, risk-taking, and brimming with vigor and soul. A flawless technical player, Horton's lyrical lines and steadfast approach to pure melody and harmonic invention earmark this recording not only as his breakthrough, but as a potent reminder that there's still original music to be discovered in modern jazz. The musician hears sound through a "who's who" of topnotch players, including soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, tenor John McKenna, pianist Frank Kimbrough bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Rich Rosenzweig. At their most evocative, the group perfectly depicts the title "Stark Winter's Day"; chilling, bitter, two-note phrases are sandwiched between a sluggish, lugubrious melody and rhythm while a two-note Native American drum beat and a slow-motion bass solo accent the motif. During the title track, Horton's choppy, staccato horn races frenetically, arming a free section for drum explosions with ensemble and solo, while Bloom's signature sweeping soprano notes waft by. "Carla Blake" for Carla Bley and Michael Blake is a mysterious processional; it is caravan-like, with spiraling, sliced piano repetitions and a powerful horn chart -- quite a contrast. Nodding his head to dance rhythms, "Long Term Memories" has a bassline copped from "Cool Jerk" -- a fleet, funky line that buoys fluttering horns and quite an animated solo from Horton. "Happy & Out of It (On the Beach)" employs a cool surf funk with a near Spanish melody. "For Thomas Chapin" has sad obbligato horns and soprano, as if to suggest that he's here and he isn't in an easy waltz tempo. "Claude's Petite Bicyclette" is amusing; a slight, implied tango and a French 4/4 approach give somewhat droll comedic impressions within a European dialect. The patient constructs of "Embrace" and "Short Term Memory," show yet another side. "Thumbnail Sketch," Horton's most complex piece, has many counterpointed phrases darting in and out under an easy swing blanket. All in all, this is a pretty wonderful first effort for the 39-year-old. His credits as a sideman have been formidable, and his talent is quite obvious. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos