“I’m not really not a pyrotechnics, flashy kind of a player,” John Raymond says. “I’m more a subtle kind of guy.”
Don’t mistake subtle for boring, though. Raymond is a top-rate trumpet and flugelhorn player with a warm, assured sound and a keen ear for melody; his flexibility and craft allow him to excel in a variety of settings. In the New York Times, Nate Chinen praised Raymond’s 2015 “Foreign Territory” album, writing: “This is an album about finding new possibilities within a recognizable framework; it’s more rational than radical, with a thoughtful relationship to mainstream convention. It’s also a substantial leap forward for Mr. Raymond.”
Raymond leaps forward again this year with his stripped-down project Real Feels, which features the unusual flugelhorn-drums-guitar trio, featuring Gilad Hekselman and Colin Stranahan. He’s got a new live album coming out soon, and will give out an advance copy to anyone who comes to the show. We talked to Raymond via phone; here are excerpts from the conversation.
The Jazz Gallery: How did this unusual trio come about?
John Raymond: One of my main influences has been listening to Art Farmer. He has those great couple records with Jim Hall. I just love the sound of flugelhorn and guitar. There can be moments where you can sort tell which is which, but it’s less identifiable than a trumpet/guitar, or definitely a sax/guitar. It’s fun to weave in and out of each other like that. Gilad has played in pretty much every iteration of a band I’ve had since I moved to town 7 years ago—I sought him out.
This has been been a band where I don’t really want to bring in a lot of crazy difficult music. The joy of it is we’re playing these simple songs: “Amazing Grace,” “Scarborough Fair,” “This Land is Your Land.” But because of the trio setting, and moreso because how we’re all approaching the music, we’re taking this simple idea and able to then take it in a lot of directions.
TJG: Are there any trios that this group is inspired by?
JR: This group feels partly like a chordless group—but with chords. It has a certain sense of that openness that I really like in groups like Sonny Rollins, Live at the Vanguard, and Mark Turner’s chordless band. All that stuff, it places a different responsibility on each member of the group to carry the time and melody and the harmony.
TJG: Do you ever feel ungrounded without a bass player?
JR: I never do. Maybe part of it is that Gilad will plug in through a guitar amp and bass amp. He can play basslines if he wanted to. He at least gets a certain sense of bottom really fills out the band, so I’m never feel like I’m missing anything.
TJG: Why are you playing flugelhorn and not trumpet in this project?
JR: Playing flugelhorn feels really natural to me. I remember watching an Art Farmer interview and he said something like, “when I play the flugelhorn, I don’t have to think about my sound. It comes out exactly like I hear it, so I can focus on the notes or the melody.” I resonate with that. I feel like there’s a certain natural feeling I get when I play the instrument that I have to work harder for on the trumpet because I hear a different sound.
And playing flugelhorn has really made me a better trumpet player. Once I play the flugelhorn, it reminds me, “that’s what I sound like.” So then I can replicate that more quickly on the trumpet.
TJG: Your repertoire includesan interesting set of songs—from bebop to folk to gospel. Is there a common theme running through them?
JR: There’s sort of a thread of hearkening back to being a midwesterner. I’m from Minneapolis. One thing I’ve really enjoyed about this band is for the moment, it feels like exactly who I am as a person and a musician. I feel like it represents me really well. It represents the kind of music I love to play, listen to, and my influences.
There’s definitely a spiritual bent to it. It’s an honest reflection of me.
TJG: What can we expect from this show?
JR: We’re putting out another record in a couple weeks. It’s a live record. Basically, we’re gonna give away a free digital download to everyone who comes to the Gallery show. It’s a snapshot of the band after we had been touring a whole bunch earlier in the year when we released the Real Feels record. It sounds great.
John Raymond and Real Feels performs at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 22nd, 2016. The group features Mr. Raymond on flugelhorn, Gilad Hekselman on guitar, and Colin Stranahan on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.