Put a crowd of brass players onstage and you guarantee at least two things: the audience won’t have any trouble hearing the music, and thanks to all those spit valves the bandstand will need a good swabbing at the end of the night. The earliest jazz bands often employed two trumpeters or cornetists to carry the melody, and duels were pretty much built-in, whether the setting was a New Orleans cemetery or a Chicago dance hall. But assemble five trumpeters, as Symphony Center has done here, and you’ve got something more intriguing than a simple tug-of-war. Presiding over the proceedings will be Clark Terry, an alumnus of both the Basie and Ellington bands–not to mention the Tonight Show orchestra of the 60s–whose bright sound and puckish technique mesmerized a teenage Miles Davis in the early 40s. Though now 79 and in iffy health, Terry can still spin his lighthearted stories at tough tempos, even if his tone and articulation don’t crackle as they once did. For sheer power, this group will depend on 30-year-old Roy Hargrove, its best-known member, whose recent local appearances–at the Jazz Showcase and in a New Year’s jam at DeJoie’s–confirm his mastery of the Lee Morgan-Freddie Hubbard hard-bop tradition. Middle-aged veterans Lew Soloff and Hugh Ragin, trumpeters three and four, each issued one of the great surprise albums of the past year. A New York studio legend, Soloff cut his teeth in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis orchestra in the mid-60s and later joined Blood, Sweat & Tears, leading the fanfare on their famous version of “God Bless the Child”; his latest, With a Song in My Heart (Milestone), is a mainstream sleeper full of inventive improvisation and savvy arrangements. Ragin has brought a dynamic charge to Roscoe Mitchell’s bands of the last dozen years, and though he used his free chops sparingly on his debut as a leader, An Afternoon in Harlem (Justin Time), it shimmers with outspoken trumpet work. Rounding out the front line will be Marcus Belgrave, a Detroit legend since joining Ray Charles’s band as a teenager back in the 50s; he performs with an intensity almost unseemly from a man his age. Together these guys ought to re-create a pretty comprehensive history of the horn, from the 40s through the 90s, and I don’t imagine any of them will shy from the challenge of this setting. The rhythm section will comprise pianist Larry Willis, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer Willie Jones III. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-292-3000 or 800-223-7114.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.