On his first instrumental album in over a decade, German jazz trumpeter/flügelhornist and pop star Till Brönner offers his own tribute to one of his earliest inspirations: the sound of Creed Taylor's CTI label. Co-produced by the artist with keyboardist Roberto Di Gioia and Samon Kawamura, these 12 tunes employ a crack studio band as well as strings, and evoke memories of the label's arrangers Don Sebesky, David Matthews, and Bob James, but with distinctly modern charts. The mood is relaxed, open, and fluid, and creativity runs high. The production is warm yet crystalline; though attention is paid to detail, nothing feels constrained by nostalgia. These 12 cuts wed hip, soulful jazz-funk grooves to modern jazz, sometimes infused with a subtly cinematic panache.
"Will of Nature" has a tight front-line horn vamp (Brönner and saxophonist Magnus Lindgren) that invokes hard bop but sticks closer to spacy soul-jazz -- Lindgren even quotes "A Love Supreme" in the intro to his solo. Di Gioia's Rhodes makes room inside the mix for exploration, while staying deep in the pocket provided by Wolfgang Haffner's drum kit and Albert Johnson's double bass. "The Gate" opens with lush, impressionistic strings that hover and float in the intro, highlighted by Lindgren's flute. They introduce Brönner's smoky flügelhorn melody, followed by double bass, rim-shot snare, and cymbals. The strings vanish and, in a nice timbral contrast, the slippery head is led by Lindgren's bass clarinet and the horn. Di Gioia's Rhodes adds a nodding groove. Brönner's deep melodic solo also adds sharp and high single-note accents embellished by reverb. A too-brief yet astute cover of Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar" is populated with shimmering Rhodes, finger-popping hand percussion, B-3, and rippling horns. Don Grusin's classic "Condor" is driven by a rubbery bassline, shuffling snare, and breaks, an illustrative meld of keyboards, background strings, and lyrical, refined front-line horns. There is a slow simmering intensity at play here, infused with canny 21st century sonic illustrations. "Half Story"'s plush backdrop of electric piano and strings underscores Lindgren and Brönner playing in unison, alternating fours, and soloing, introducing a myriad of lyric elements. Di Gioia adds electric guitar to his keyboards on "Wacky Wes," the funkiest cut on the set, but gives up none of the album's textural richness. The date closes with a gorgeous reading of Michel Legrand's ballad "Once Upon a Summertime," whose elegant strings and sparse electric piano create a frame for Brönner to state the melody simply and infuse it with a wealth of emotion. Ultimately, this self-titled date is a monster, offering proof that not only has Brönner not forsaken jazz for pop, but has given listeners what is perhaps his finest recording to date.