One of the “young lions” coming up in Wynton Marsalis’ wake, Russell Gunn received acclaim for his “Ethnomusicology” series that combined hip-hop and jazz with daunting bravado. Gunn now releases an album of reworkings of Miles Davis tunes, perhaps to nail down more trad jazz cred. It works. Gunn digs deep into Miles’ style and finds it as relevant as it ever was. That’s not to say he mimics the past. Far from it, with a tight foursome backing his expansive trumpet forays, he sets up a multitude of fresh rhythms and then starts speaking the language of the trumpet. It feels like more than coincidence that both trumpeters come from East St. Louis.
While standards like “All Blues” and “Blue in Green” might be half-expected, Gunn’s way of rephrasing, reharmonizing and simply blaring away on them is fresh and clean. More interestingly, he has the guts to take on tunes that only Miles ever really played, like “Bitches Brew” and “Tutu.” Gunn turns these into the new standards that all trumpeters will have to try out. “Plays Miles” is as hard swinging, hip and evocative as its namesake.
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