Brian Lynch is one of the top trumpet players in jazz, equally comfortable in an ensemble hard bop/straight ahead mode, or in Latin jazz where he often plays with Eddie Palmieri, with whom he won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album for 2006’s Simpatico. Lynch is not only a formidable and well respected sideman but a Grammy-award winning bandleader too with well over twenty albums to his credit since the mid-‘80s. Just on these pages alone in the past year, you’ve seen his name associated with the latest two Eddie Palmieri albums and in the Messenger Legacy Band, led by Ralph Peterson, carrying on the legacy of Art Blakey. He also appeared in the small combo, Senor Groove, with the Smith Brothers on Little Havana in the past year.
The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature in Music, though, is very special as it marks his first album leading a big band. It could well be his most ambitious project yet. He composed and arranged all original music, merging his two greatest passions, reading and music and he also invited some very special guests alongside his solos. They include Regina carter, Grammy winner Dafnis Prieto, NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman, Donald Harrison, Orland “maraca” Valle and Jim Snidero. With these nine compositions, Lynch pays tribute to W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coastes, David Levering Lewis, Eric Hobsbawm, Neil Irwin Painter, and Amiri Baraka, and others.
The album’s title refers to the book The Omni-Americans, by the African-American writer Albert Murray, which lynch read while in high school right after its release in 1970. The essence of Murray’s book is that black American culture was central to the whole idea of America. Even at that young age Lynch was drawn to black American culture both in literature and in music, as you can glean from the authors cited.
Lynch’s pieces reveal some new facets his insatiable musical appetite already well documented in his four decades of being at the forefront of the jazz and Latin music scenes. First of all, come the expected Afro-Caribbean jazz in “Crucible For Crisis”, featuring drummer/Grammy laureate Dafnis Prieto and virtuoso flautist Orlando “Maraca” Valle, and “Affective Affinities”, featuring violinist Regina Carter. The straight-ahead pieces owe to his tenure in the legendary bands of Art Blakey and Horace Silver (“Tribute To Blue (Mitchell) ”, featuring alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, and “Woody Shaw”). Lynch though, reaches deeper into his bag on this project.
Hip hop, trap and funk influences are deftly blended with blaring brass and shouting full band passages on “The Struggle Is In Your Name”, featuring New Orleans icon and frequent Lynch collaborator, saxophonist Donald “Big Chief” Harrison. Reggaeton beats and salsa grooves coexist with massed horns, dissonant counterpoint and snaking solo lines in “Inevitability and Eternity”. Swing and Latin rhythms seamlessly coexist in the company of rousing big band work and the distinctive soprano sax of Dave Liebman on “The Trouble With Elysium.” The multi-hued “Africa My Land” is percussion driven as in “Afro” while the “Caribbean” part of that equation is fleshed out in “Opening Up”, which is by turns delicate and driving as the mood shifts from bossa to angular cha-cha grooves. Said succinctly, Lynch has more than covered all the bases.
The big band that Lynch assembled for this project comprise Lynch’s teaching colleagues, students and recent alumni of The Frost School Of Music, University Of Miami, where Lynch has been a professor of Studio Music and Jazz since 2011, along with a selection of world-class musicians gracing the Miami area. It was recorded by Chris Palowitch in the Frost School’s Austin Weeks Center for Recording and Performance and mixed and mastered by famed engineer Dave Darlington (winner of a Grammy for his work with on Lynch’s 2006 award winner Simpático).
If you’ve heard Lynch play on any of the albums previously mentioned, or better yet, seen him live, you know that he is one of the most fiery, explosive improvisational trumpeters in jazz. Here, though, he not only shows that side but proves versatile across the various styles just mentioned, and lyrically nuanced beyond the sheer power, amplified by the big band setting and the high caliber of guests soloing alongside him. The interplay and dialogues between Lynch and the other featured soloists is remarkable, one of the many salient features of this project. It’s not surprising; there are few if any musicians who can claim Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Eddie Palmieri, Phil Woods and even Prince in a resume. Peers and critics widely respect Lynch as attested to by his award as Trumpeter Of The Year by The Jazz Journalists Association in 2017.
Lynch’s musical drive and vision is summed up well in his statement to journalist Ted Panken for a Downbeat profile a few years ago: “…to blend everything together into something that has integrity and sounds good. Not to sound like a pastiche or shifting styles; but like someone with a lot of range and understanding.” That last phrase is a severe understatement regarding The Omni-American Book Club. Let’s just say that here he demonstrates immense range and breathtaking understanding of jazz’s many idioms, as a soloist, composer, and arranger. This is and exciting big band album, one of the most fully realized you’ll hear this year or any year.