Aside from being a multi-award-winning trumpeter and composer, Brian Lynch appears to be an avid reader and social arbiter as well. His twenty-third album as leader, a two-CD set whose protracted and austere name, The Omni-American Book Club / My Journey Through Literature in Music, belies its bold and free-hearted nature, is dedicated to a number of writers, most in the realms of equity and civil rights, who have quickened Lynch’s inquiring mind and shaped his bright and perceptive music.
Even so, Lynch has eschewed polemics and produced instead a series of enterprising and resourceful jazz themes whose eloquence and charm should by all rights cast aside longstanding barriers and earn the respect and admiration of even the most narrow-minded disputant. To help do so, he has enhanced his already exemplary ensemble with a veritable who’s-who of celebrated guest artists including saxophonists Donald Harrison, David Liebman and Jim Snidero; drummer Dafnis Prieto, flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle and violinist Regina Carter, each of whom helps raise the album from the sphere of “far better than average” to “somewhere approaching masterpiece.” Much as their presence lends weight, however, it is Lynch’s stellar compositions and arrangements that prove inherently decisive. To be concise, there’s not a blemish in the bunch, nor a clinker in the chorus. In other words, it’s no longer a secret that Lynch writes about as well as he plays, which is sublime by any measure. His songs are handsome and smart, tasteful and swinging, precisely what is needed to help a big band enkindle the mind and enrapture the heart.
Disc 1 encompasses half a dozen tracks, each of which is a gem. Prieto and Valle are showcased on the stalwart opener, “Crucible for Crisis,” Harrison on “The Struggle Is in Your Name,” Carter on “Affective Affinities,” Liebman (and tenor Gary Keller) on “The Trouble with Elysium.” The band has “Inevitability and Eternity” to itself before Snidero arrives to place his special imprint on Lynch’s lyrical “Tribute to Blue (Mitchell).” There’s a second homage on Disc 2, this one to the late trumpeter “Woody Shaw,” one of two essays whose “extended versions” close that disc (the other is “The Struggle Is in Your Name”). Alto David Leon and drummer Kyle Swan are front and center on the shorter reading of “Woody Shaw,” trumpeter Jean Caze and percussionist Murph Aucamp (on congas) on the longer version. For his part, Lynch solos on every number, always with his trademark creativity and taste, never upstaging anyone even as he reminds one and all they’ll have to stay on their toes to keep pace with his impressive artistry.
As noted, each of Lynch’s songs was composed with a recipient or two in mind, writers with whom he feels a special kinship and admires for their outspoken allegiance to the concepts of universal brotherhood and equal rights under the law for everyone. Some of the names are fairly well-known (W.E.B. DuBois, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Naomi Klein, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, A.B. Spellman), others rather less so (David Levering Lewis, Ned Sublette, Eric Hobsbawm, Mike Davis, Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, Isabel Wilkerson, Nell Irvin Painter, Brene Brown, Chinua Achebe, Robert Farris Thompson). And then there’s Albert Murray, the writer and critic who, Lynch writes, inspired the enterprise. All told, that’s quite an impressive assembly.
As a paradigm of Lynch’s level-headed assessment of the world in which we live, The Omni-American Book Club is superb; as a repository of emphatic, straight-from-the-heart big-band jazz, it’s even better.