The woods are full of musicians and rappers sampling classic jazz tunes and trying to bridge the gap between hip-hop and straight-ahead jazz. And then there's Russell Gunn. The New York-based, East St. Louis-born trumpeter ("Miles was always the man; I am just proud to be from the same hometown") doesn't just dabble in ancient grooves, he redirects them, then springboards off them into his own private America -- warts and all.
Take his superb new CD Ethnomusicology Volume 3 (Justin Time) and its meditation on Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." First, vocalist Jodi Merriday and the band run through the original lyrics -- the stark, bitter condemnation of lynching -- in an electronic-based reworking. Then comes Merriday's "Stranger Fruit," a contemporary spoken-word piece set to beats by Gunn, which leaves no doubt about who's to blame. Says Gunn about the song: "I will never lose the consciousness of what my people had to and have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I make real music for real people that live in the real world." He may be angry, but that doesn't mean he's unsophisticated.
Gunn's ultra-ambitious Ethnomusicology series is rich, dense, political music, reminiscent of Charles Mingus and Max Roach in its complexity but always pointed to the future. And the future is hip-hop. "I am influenced by a wide variety of music," he notes. "Those who really check out hip-hop and R&B can find countless references to classic hip-hop and R&B songs in the music. What turns me on now are the beats of the hip-hop producers of the South. It's becoming more popular these days, but you have to live in the South to get a good dose of 24/7 'bounce.' Bounce is a term used like 'swinging' or 'funky.' It's exactly what you do when the track is 'bouncing.' The creativity of these Southern beats is unreal. Definitely the future of black music."
Gunn, backed by a five-piece band including SF's DJ Apollo, comes to Yoshi's next Tuesday, May 27 for a two-night stand. Visit www.yoshis.com for details.
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