Terell Stafford, Between Two Worlds Review
Harmonic Dualities: Navigating Terell Stafford’s Between Two Worlds
by Nolan DeBuke
As the gentle autumn winds rustle the leaves, urging us to contemplate change and renewal, it seems apropos to delve into Terell Stafford’s newest offering, Between Two Worlds, released this September on the esteemed Le Coq Records label. In jazz, much like life, the spaces between the notes often convey the most profound messages. The nine songs on the album encapsulate that philosophy, resonating with the emotional tumult and introspection that marked the world’s recent experiences.
First, some context. One cannot forget Stafford’s poignant recollections of performing the titular Victor Lewis composition “Between Two Worlds” at the Village Vanguard during the zenith of the pandemic. The haunting image of a near-empty room, punctuated only by the presence of a few camera operators, paints a melancholic backdrop. It reminds us of the many dualities Stafford has grappled with – the balancing act between domesticity and the demands of a professional musician’s life, the duality of his roles as an educator and performer, and the challenges of mastering jazz and classical domains.
The opening track, “Between Two Worlds,” immediately captivates with its intricate two-horn front line of Stafford and saxophonist Tim Warfield. Stafford’s expressive solo, known for his melodious trumpet phrasing, imparts an emotional and eloquent narrative. The synergy between Warfield’s saxophone and Bruce Barth’s piano is palpable, crafting an auditory journey reminiscent of two old friends conversing, their exchanges brimming with understanding and mutual respect.
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is a fine example of Stafford’s adaptive genius. The light Latin rhythm, augmented by percussionist Alex Acuña, lends a contemporary flair to a classic hymnal, paying homage to those we lost during the pandemic. Building the rhythm section unit is David Wong on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. Barth’s solo is locked in with Acuña’s dancing conga pattern for a stirring solo. Wong and Blake, with their impeccable chemistry, elevate the musicality, their rhythms and harmonies intertwining in an intricate dance that is palpable throughout.
But the true allure of this album is the narratives that live behind each note, crafting an ambiance that engulfs the listener. “Mi a Mia,” kindled by Stafford’s young daughter’s maiden voyage into the world of piano, vibrates with an infectious rhythm and exudes nuances of contemporary Latin jazz. As for “Two Hearts as One,” a heartfelt tribute to his wife, Stafford’s muted trumpet is captivating. It beckons listeners into an intimate, almost ethereal dialogue – akin to a clandestine whisper shared between soulmates.
Stafford’s soloing on these two songs exemplifies his expansive musical vocabulary. His trumpet emanates warmth, narrating tales that traverse post-bop terrains, bebop alleys, modern jazz boulevards, and even classical music avenues. With every phrase, Stafford appears as a bold explorer, treading realms of harmonic innovation and melodic novelty, demonstrating a relentless pursuit of uncharted territories in the vast expanse of jazz.
As an educator, the parallels drawn between Stafford and the ensemble members, several of whom are also faculty at Temple University, add depth to Between Two Worlds. The camaraderie they share within the hallowed halls of academia and on the vibrant stage is palpable in their synchronized performances. This synergy is particularly evident in the upbeat rendition of Horace Silver’s “Room 608,” where Stafford effortlessly weaves his post-bop influences, crafting a storied and spirited sound. Indeed, this ensemble demonstrates the harmonious blend of scholarly precision and the raw, unfiltered passion of real-world jazz performance with deep listening by all the members.
While all tracks are noteworthy, Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” warrants special mention. Barth’s arrangement lends a freshness to this classic, gradually building in intensity, leading to a crescendo of emotive play between Stafford’s trumpet and Warfield’s saxophone.
However, no musical journey is without its reflective moments. Stafford’s rendition of McCoy Tyner’s “You Taught My Heart To Sing” is a heartfelt tribute to one of his mentors. The nuanced melody and Stafford’s soulful solo expression are an emotional homage to his bond with Tyner.
Terell Stafford’s Between Two Worlds is a narrative of a man caught in a myriad of dualities, yet seeking harmony. Much like a well-balanced meal, his music is a concoction of various flavors, textures, and experiences, each element enhancing the other. As Stafford navigates his musical realm, effortlessly oscillating between the traditional and the innovative, one thing remains evident: his worlds, however diverse, unite and are a stimulus for Stafford to experiment and explore new musical possibilities.