Terell Stafford, Between Two Worlds Review
Album Review: Between Two Worlds by Terell Stafford
By Jeff Becker
The album Between Two Worlds is a musical odyssey that details an intimate map charting the terrain of Terell Stafford’s emotional and intellectual reflections. It’s a navigation of multiple identities — a musical diplomat shuttling between roles of composer and performer, educator and family man. Released on September 8, 2023, and produced by Piero J. Pata and Andy James under Le Coq Records, it’s a labyrinthine journey worth exploring, especially for those who are acquainted with the transformative power of jazz and Stafford’s elegant approach to its language.
In July of 2020, Terell Stafford, a seasoned trumpeter, educator, and composer, brought his quartet to the Village Vanguard to perform. That night, the ensemble performed Victor Lewis’s deeply resonant composition “Between Two Worlds.” Amidst a global pandemic, the iconic jazz venue was hauntingly empty, save for a skeletal crew capturing the performance for a secluded online audience. Dressed in face masks, his bandmates played their instruments as Stafford found himself emotionally and spiritually impacted by the surreal experience. The performance served as an intense moment of reflection for Stafford, prompting him to explore the dualities that have shaped his life and career, eventually inspiring his new album titled Between Two Worlds.
The album focuses on a myriad of ‘in-betweens’ that have colored his life and career, from personal roles to professional collaborations. His ensemble, featuring Tim Warfield on saxophone, Bruce Barth on piano, David Wong on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums, and Alex Acuña on percussion, is less a band and more a brotherhood.
The opening track, Victor Lewis’s “Between Two Worlds,” embodies dualism. Stafford’s solo traverses the complex emotions of an artist in limbo. Warfield’s saxophone pirouettes gracefully through this existential conundrum, and Barth’s piano solo encapsulates the essence of living in multiple dimensions. Blake’s drum solo is a showcase of rhythmic bravado and serves as the connective tissue linking the multiple realities presented.
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” offers a Latin spin to the hymn, honoring the lives lost during the pandemic. Stafford’s trumpet speaks in a tongue with shades of New Orleans expressions and the musings of post-bop jazz. Barth’s piano ascends to celestial heights, perfectly synchronizing with the 2-3 son clave and texture of rhythms from Blake and Acuña.
With “Mi a Mia,” Stafford dives headlong into the world of Latin jazz. Warfield’s soprano saxophone exhibits elastic tonality and nuanced phrasing. Stafford’s trumpet solo creates an emotional crescendo, oscillating from ascending lines to long-held, breathless notes. Barth is a powerhouse here, injecting life-affirming montuno rhythms, his solo flowing with clear ideas and impeccable melodic shapes.
“Two Hearts as One” is an ode to quietude, capturing the intimacy between Stafford and his wife. The chemistry between Barth and Stafford is palpable. David Wong’s bowed bass solo is a poetic aside in this unfolding drama, minimalistic yet affecting.
In Horace Silver’s “Room 608,” the ensemble embraces the spirit of swing with infectious enthusiasm. Stafford’s solo is a lesson in clarity and flow, expertly navigating through the rhythm changes form. Barth’s solo is an equilibrium of swift motifs and innovative harmony.
Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” elevates the mood with its bluesy underpinnings, while Barth’s own “Manaus at Dusk” unveils layers of mystery and exotic scale colorings, especially with Warfield’s textured saxophone and Acuña’s penetrating percussion.
In Between Two Worlds, Stafford graces us with a multi-dimensional narrative that’s emotionally enriching and intellectually stimulating. While exploring dualities, Stafford neither simplifies nor amplifies the conflicts; instead, he brings them into a coherent sonic conversation. His ensemble sounds like family, and their contribution is an intricate part of this conversation, making the album an evocative landscape of intersecting energies and overlapping stories.
Stafford’s music exists in a liminal space; he’s in between two worlds or perhaps many. Yet, these conflicting universes find unity in the realm of his musical imagination, where Stafford’s many worlds not only harmonize but sing a complex, beautiful hymn of human existence.