Trumpeter John Raymond re-examines jazz standards on second project

On his sophomore CD, Brooklyn-based trumpeter/composer John Raymond ventures into Foreign Territory, taking a refreshing and exciting look at the jazz tradition with a set of original music that retains the music’s classic aspects while feeling entirely contemporary.

To realize his modern reimagining of traditional elements, Raymond assembled a stellar quartet that is uniquely qualified to seamlessly merge past and present. He called on two gifted peers – pianist Dan Tepfer, who has gone to further time-spanning extremes with his adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and bassist Joe Martin, who has worked with innovators like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, and Chris Potter – and a legend who helped to define the very tradition that Raymond is reexamining, drummerBilly Hart. Overseeing the session was the great horn player John McNeil, whom Raymond refers to as a mentor and “undercover jazz trumpet guru.”

Labeled “a prepossessing young trumpet player” by the New York Times, Raymond has worked with musicians such as John Abercrombie, Chris Potter, Ben Williams,Orrin Evans, Gilad Hekselman, Linda Oh and Otis Brown III, and been featured at the FONT Festival, Winter Jazz Festival and Center City Jazz Festival. He has also distinguished himself as an elite horn arranger working with top gospel and R&B artists across the country, most clearly evidenced by the three GRAMMY-nominated songs for which he has arranged and recorded horns.

Foreign Territory is a vast departure from Raymond’s 2012 debut release, Strength & Song, which featured a more self-consciously “contemporary” sound with traces of rock and gospel influences. The Minneapolis-born trumpeter began his follow-up in the same vein, but the new music didn’t seem to fit with his vision. Around the same time, he connected with McNeil and the two began to convene regularly at the elder trumpeter’s house, where they’d discuss music and play standards together.

“That sparked a lot of revelations for me,” Raymond says in a recent news release. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on young musicians to be ‘innovative.’ But I noticed that I felt most relaxed and authentic and honest with myself when I was playing over standards or embracing the traditional aspects of the music. So I realized that I had to break free of the pressure that I was putting on myself to do something ‘new’ and instead decided to take familiar ideas and turn them on their heads to find something new inside each of them.”

Raymond’s incredible quartet was key to navigating that uncharted terrain, he says. “I think one of the biggest reasons I chose these guys for this music was because I knew that they were going to truly improvise. I knew they were going to take it to a place musically that was unknown and undiscovered. This was my vision from the start – to find a group of musicians that would bring such a high level of spontaneity to the music that it would create both a sense of mystery and a sense of joy in exploring the unknown.