To grasp the purpose of trumpeter Russell Gunn’s newest creation, The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra, it’s important to understand that the alchemist’s recordings are cultural and historical amalgams as much as they are audacious musical experimentations rooted in jazz. His mission for the 19-piece Big Band slated to issue its debut album, “Get It How You Live” on the Ropeadope label and to breathe new life into “traditional” jazz Big Bands by expanding its possibilities in the modern era. Adding voice to the collection produced by Gunn that incorporates all shades of jazz, R&B, pop, hip hop and funk is Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Dionne Farris.
Gunn, a two-time Grammy nominee for his far-reaching “Ethnomusicology Vol. 1” and “Ethnomusicology Vol. 2,” spent a year honing his vision and shaping The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra’s sound, composing originals and constructing thoughtful arrangements for more than thirty tunes. The ensemble’s lab was on stage during a long-running weekly residency at Atlanta’s St. James Live. Once fully realized, Gunn selected nine tunes for the debut disc.
“Most of the music on ‘Get It How You Live’ is original compositions that I felt were deserving of expansion into the grander format of a large jazz ensemble,” said Gunn, who grew up in East St. Louis.
Hard-hitting hip hop beats bolstered by bombastic horns power Gunn’s “Sybil’s Blues,” which features trumpeter Theo Croker. His “Critic’s Song” bounces to a grinding go-go beat amidst cacophonic horn blasts that build towards a pummeling sax crescendo from Brian Hogans, who only yields the mic to the furious rhymes spit with vitriol by Dashill Smith. Gunn’s other standout composition on the session is the richly-melodic ballad “Lyne’s Joint,” which spotlights Melvin Jones’s trumpet.
“I am a melody-first musician and am drawn like a magnet to melody. That is why my favorite musicians of all time are Peter Tchaikovsky, Charles Mingus and Benny Golson. Melody is king!” proclaimed Gunn.
As for reboots, Farris’s hit “Hopeless” is given entirely new dimensions in a Big Band setting courtesy of Gunn’s deft arrangement. Drawn to the original’s soulful harmony, Gunn converts Shai’s vocal acapella hit, “If I Ever Fall In Love,” into an “acapella” trumpet and horn section meditation with haunting yet regal qualities. The rendition will be given visuals when a video is lensed later this month. Old-school R&B heads will rejoice over the three-part “Switch Medley” that Gunn masterminded by seamlessly fusing “There’ll Never Be,” “A Brighter Tomorrow” and “I Call Your Name.” The collection closes with the poignant “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men,” on which Farris elegantly delivers a stunning knockout performance.
Inherent in Gunn’s artistic muse is the message of being genuine and true, “owning” what you are and what you stand for. “The title of the album is the realist and most honest album title I have had since ‘Ethnomusicology Vol. 1.’ The laymen definition of ‘Get It How You Live’ loosely translates to ‘going about things in an honest fashion.’ I was on the front lines of the transition from the ‘Wyntonite’ sensibility of the ‘nouveau retro’ jazz musician to the jazz musician that grew up in hip hop culture and I owned it. I can go as far to confidently say that I am primarily responsible for that shift. I say that not to give myself retroactive credit, but simply to say that I’ve been ‘Getting It How I Live’ for a long time.”
The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra is not the first time Gunn and Farris have collaborated. In 2013, they released “Dionne Get Your Gunn,” which is revisited on the new offering in the form of “Fair,” a bitter yet sultry, expansively-layered suite about a breakup penned by Farris.
Gunn concludes, “The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra is my greatest achievement to date. I am proud to carry the torch of the great Big Bands into the modern era. I consider it a huge responsibility to represent the lineage of Big Band leaders like Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie and the king of all, Sir Duke (Ellington), in a way that pays homage to the tradition while expanding the possibilities.”
The songs contained on “Get It How You Live” are:
“Get It How You Live (Intro)”
“Sybil’s Blues (featuring Theo Croker)”
“If I Ever Fall In Love”
“The Critic’s Song”
“Switch Medley” comprised of “There’ll Never Be,” “A Brighter Tomorrow” and “I Call Your Name”
“Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”