This is the second of two albums trumpeter Dave Burns released on Vanguard in the '60s, apparently something of a professional blunder since this label seems to have had as little to do with the hard bop style of jazz as a heavy metal firm such as Earache Records. But slightly less than half a century later, collectors of hard bop seem to be all over the Burns discography, shelling out more than $30 for a copy of one of the Vanguard vinyl sides and saying bedside prayers for a CD reissue set. Burns' reputation as a brilliant technician and instructor on the trumpet is daunting. He seems to be the sort of player Dizzy Gillespie would have handed a difficult passage to in order to avoid any possible screw-ups. This might lead listeners to expect highly technical music, but there was another side to this artist that happily affected the music he created as a bandleader. At the heart of any good hard bop performance is a kind of good-natured, happy swing feeling -- and this is what Burns offers on this collection, bolstered by sidemen whose collective fatness of tone brings to mind the participants in a Kansas City barbecue "belly buster."
The great Count Basie trombonist joins tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell in the horn lineup, the latter artist a regular sidekick of Burns whose playing is wisely direct. This horn section sounds just as good as a lineup on one of the better Lee Morgan Blue Note sides, to name another trumpeter in the same league as Burns. Pianist Harold Mabern coincidentally also worked regularly with Morgan and seems to have telepathic interplay with the superior vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. They play together as if they had been able to examine the entire session in advance, collectively determining when, where, and how to establish their harmonic trading post. Bassist Herman Wright and drummer Otis "Candy" Finch complete a rhythm section that plays with great taste, recorded with aplomb. At least the recording engineers knew what to do with hard bop, even if the label didn't. Several tracks add timbales to the percussion mix for the expected Latin kick. Burns originals such as "Rigor Mortis," also recorded by Mitchell on one of the tenor man's own sessions, are blended with marvelous interpretations of standards. The performance of "My Romance" is so exquisite that the more introspective jazz fan may wonder why romance is even necessary.