Saxophonist Brian Horton has long been a mainstay of Triangle jazz, though there hasn't been a CD that aptly documents his place in his surrounding scene—until now. Brand New Day is the Durham resident's third album as a bandleader and his first recorded in his home state after a sojourn in Harlem. It not only confirms Horton's stature but also reveals a personal side of this educator, performer and composer.
Horton grew up in Kinston, the midsize town located in eastern North Carolina's flattening lands. Though Kinston served as the cradle for another saxophonist of renown, Maceo Parker, Horton was inspired there by the hymns he heard in church and the songs he heard his grandmother singing in her kitchen. "She would hum these melodies in such a way that made the whole room feel warm," Horton recalls.
Returning to his deep Carolina roots, Horton taps his earliest upbringing for this album of straight-ahead jazz inspired by gospel and blues. Whether behind tenor, soprano sax or flute, he radiates the same warmth he learned in his grandmother's kitchen. Strongly melodic and nurtured by patient ensemble playing, Brand New Day invites the general listener but is short neither on technical aplomb nor hip ideas for the aficionado.
Horton's spacious solos are well matched by pianist Ernest Turner, who contributes deep knowledge of gospel and New Orleans traditions. The irrepressible energy of drummer Kobie Watkins and bassist Ameen Saleem (Horton's longtime collaborator, who traveled from New York for these sessions) supports but does not overwhelm.
Two lyrical standards, "Weaver of Dreams" and "Never Let Me Go," fit well into Horton's atmospheric approach. His own melodies, such as the standout "Mother's Day," artfully evoke hymns yet feel fresh. Like a stained glass window casting different colors into a unified mood, Brand New Day is a well-paced outing that dazzles not just in its sharp execution but its emotional intelligence.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Standing out or settling in."