Since launching his solo career in 2001, Barbados born, Berklee School of Music educated saxman Elan Trotman has taken some fascinating twists and turns. His debut Memories mixed jazz with steel pan driven Caribbean music and gospel music—almost like an introductory autobiography. His next disc Let’s Have a Good Old Time was a high spirited gospel jazz album in the spirit of Kirk Whalum’s The Gospel According to Jazz series; it featured a tenor duet with Whalum himself on “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” He then went full-tilt into the island mode with The Reggae Christmas. Trotman’s latest disc, the hour plus 15-track funk and old school R&B driven extravaganza This Time Around, is his most accomplished and in the pocket set to date.
“The music is radio friendly,” says Elan, “but I did not want to limit myself to the usual format. I stretch out, take chances, and add an edge to my solos. I enjoy the genre and the concept but I also break some of the rules because this is how I play live, bringing all of my different influences into the music.” While inspired by Whalum, fellow Barbadian saxman Arturo Tappin and Grover Washington Jr, Trotman’s music has that unique edge where its vibe is instantly seductive and familiar but also offers some explosive playing and compositional challenges. Helping him achieve these heights is a band featuring top musicians who have played with Brian McKnight, Ne-Yo, Warren Hill, Toni Braxton and even the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. With its shimmering old school keyboard vibe, there’s definitely a bit of trippy time traveling happening on the mid-tempo opener “Lil’ Too Late,” but the emotional key is Trotman’s powerful improvisations. Marvin Gaye would be all over the soaring, horn drenched party vibe of the title track (whose chattering voices and blues touches will remind listeners of “Got To Give It Up”), while “Me And My 22’s” shuffles along with a cool mix of sax and trumpet melody-harmony exchange. Trotman’s also got the cool thumping thing going on “100 Degrees,” whose funky fire is tempered a bit by some cool scatting voices and his own silky soprano lines. No sax player this influenced by classic R&B can get too far into a set without a soulful ballad, and he delivers big time on “Oh How We Were Meant To Be,” a gospel flavored, vocal lament featuring dreamy retro atmospheres. The creative kick on the similarly flavored easy grooving sad song “With You” is the horn doubling behind the vocals in the chorus.
The saxman does an even more impressive job of texturing sax and wordless gospel vocals on “4:05 p.m.,” which is driven by a hypnotic piano motif that runs throughout. Other compelling originals are the semi-tropical “Conversation” and the sensual, laid back dreamy funk tune “Crusin,” which features Trotman up in the higher registers merging flute and sax. Many indie artists rely on cover tunes to break through to larger scale recognition, but the saxman’s strong originals make his explosive takes on Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” (dig those jammin’ horn textures!) and Journey’s anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’” seem more like a cool afterthought. While you’re enjoying This Time Around, it might be fun to think about the diverse musical situations Trotman has performed and recorded in. He has played with such notables as Roberta Flack, Brian McKnight, Nathan East, Don Grusin, Peter Gammons and major league baseball pitcher and guitarist Bronson Arroyo. His love for sports and his relationships with athletes and teams are reflected not only in the group with Arroyo but in him having performed the National Anthem on numerous occasions for such teams as the Boston Celtics, the Boston Red Sox, the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He put together a band for NBA star Ray Allen’s wedding and performs annually for Theo Epstein’s charity event “Hot Stove Cool Music.” He has also played on a nearly weekly basis for the past five years with the wedding band Flipside in addition to leading his own group. In 2008 and 2009 Trotman has been the recipient of the award for Best Jazz Male at the New England Urban Music Awards.
All of this makes you wonder what he’ll do for an encore the next time around…