Richardson's command of the full range of his instrument's sonic potential adds dimension to his jazz recordings. "The Powers That Be," his impressive debut as a 23-year-old relative newcomer to jazz, displays his control of tone and timbre and his willingness to stretch genre boundaries. Inevitably, his playing is stronger in the written and unison sections and is perhaps a bit less certain in the solo spotlight. (Richardson admits that he finds some playing on the CD a bit painful to revisit. But whatever weakness exists is conceptual; his technique is flawless.) ***
1997 "Pandora's Pocket" (IGMOD)
Compared to "Powers," Richardson's follow-up, "Pandora's Pocket," is a full-bore mature work and a major leap forward in every respect. Without taking anything away from "Powers," "Pocket" is a major leap forward in every respect. The complexity blooms into wildly ambitious compositions; for example, the opening title song has a 5/4 melodic superstructure balanced on a 4/4 rhythmic foundation.
Richardson's playing is far more confident, full of bright, slashing lines, billows of 16th notes and a deep sense of form. His sidemen, including breakout singer Kurt Elling and onetime Pat Metheny drummer Paul Wertico, are given plenty of room to shine, but this is definitively Richardson's album.
In one of the album's high points, the 26-year-old trumpeter revisits Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap." Hancock's version features trumpet great Freddie Hubbard, one of Richardson's heroes, who, coincidentally, was also 26 at the time of the original recording. Rex's solo, faster and very different, serves as both tribute and statement of independence. ****
2004 "Inside the Blue Suitcase" (Bear Claw)
Since 1995, Richardson has been part of Rhythm and Brass, a chamber ensemble that straddles the classical jazz border. The band specializes in engaging, clever arrangements of a wide range of sometimes unconventional source material. (Its last CD, "Sitting in an English Garden," assayed the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and a suite based on the synchronicity between Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wizard of Oz," with additional quirky dialogue from the David Lynch film "Wild at Heart.")
The group's latest, "Inside the Blue Suitcase," is its first set of all-original compositions. The trademark cute electronic effects and voice-overs are used sparingly. The horns-piano-drums configuration (with tuba handling bass) predictably produces clever, interwoven multivoiced workouts that sound like a less chaotic version of the World Saxophone Quartet. It also produces rich, cinematic pieces of surprising tenderness. ***
2005 "Masks" (Summit)
Richardson reconciles the conflict with jazz recordings enriched by both the intellectual complexity of modern/classical and the expressive warmth of jazz. His most recent CD, "Masks," could have been just an abstract, somewhat forbidding, set of technically demanding pieces by modern American composers. But his approach makes it challenging, approachable and ultimately charming. ****
All CDs are available online at Amazon.com or similar vendors; through the Rhythm and Brass Web site, www.rhythm-brass.com; and through Richardson's Web site, www.rextrumpet.com.
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