The new album released by Terell Stafford is truly exceptional. New Beginnings combines all the best aspects of Cool Jazz, Bop, Third Stream, Latin Jazz, and straight-ahead modern playing. It provides listeners with opportunity for excitement, spirituality, sentimentality, and solemnity. All these feelings are elicited in the confines of one extraordinary album. Most impressive about this release is the generosity each musician on the album gives to the other members in the group, and the generosity the music provides for the listener to lap up greedily.
The theme for New Beginnings is mood; as stated on the inside cover: "The mood shifts that music instills within me are like new beginnings . . . taking me places I may not have planned to go." Stafford and company put this philosophical idea into example excellently. The band provides playful tones throughout, as well as care-free childlike innocence (on "I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed"), Latin Groove and Gospel ("He Knows How Much You Can Bear"), beautiful ballad ("Blame It On My Youth"), and burnin’ blues ("Berda’s Bounce").
Stafford begins his album with a cool bop theme, followed by basic swing solos. "Soft Winds" sets the mood as playful, not too serious, but at the same time educated. This track, as well as "I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed" (which could be described loosely as a nod to the classic School Days album) can be enjoyed without much jazz knowledge. However, with just a little education, with quotes, references, and subtle innuendo a whole other level is achieved on top of being a "good listen".
"He Knows How Much You Can Bear" begins as a gospel piece with piano introduction. Mulgrew Miller’s playing is, as always, exceptional. His wisdom that has come with experience comes through with a touch that is attention-grabbing, while at the same time understated. His role as a member of this rhythm section is broad. His talents for playing straight-ahead pieces, as well as Latin, ballad, blues, burnin’, and even funk are nearly unmatched. On this particular tune, the gospel introduction is as authentic as they come.
Also included on this album is Stafford’s own composition, the "New Beginnings Suite". It provides from soup to nuts within three pieces an inclusive collection of moods. "Selah" is funk/rock; "Le Maurier" is Latin, and "Berda’s Bounce" - blues. The talents of both the soloists (Dick Oatts, Steve Wilson) and the rhythm section (Miller, Derrick Hodge, Dana Hall) are equally apparent in all genres. The compositions are original, yet ear-catching; familiar, yet not derivative. Stafford’s talents for writing and composition are evident as his dynamic and touching playing is elegant.
The final genre Stafford forays into is that of ballad. "Blame it On My Youth" is just him and the rhythm section. His generosity within the music makes it almost a duet between him and Miller on piano. His solos are strong, but not overpowering. Dynamic, but not overshadowing the mood of the ballad.
Stafford accomplishes easily everything he sets out for. The moods on New Beginnings are wide-ranging, but always linked by the players’ playfulness and generosity. The solos are strong, the feel swings, and the moods never falter. Stafford and his band give us a wonderful gift of vivacious, vigorous, and inventive music for all to enjoy.