For urban jazz instrumental artists, mining the sacred gold of Motown – and especially Marvin Gaye – can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Do it right, put your own pizzazz on it, and you’re honoring carrying on one of music’s most cherished legacies. Fall short in your re-imaginings, or sound too much like previous tributes, and it’s a misstep that will take a while to recover from. Immersing in dapper style, searing emotion and deep groovability, the resounding transcendence saxophonist Elan Trotman brings to Gaye’s legacy with his latest album Dear Marvin is best summed up by a fan posting on Amazon, all in caps: “This is the best Marvin Gaye tribute ever. Hats off, my man killed it.” To paraphrase a classic 70’s funk tune, saxophonist Elan Trotman blew the roof off the sucka!
Following up the Billboard charting success of the project’s first single “Got To Give It Up,” Trotman has a blast rolling, darting and powering through “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” bringing freshness to the familiar with vibrant new blues-soul energy and heartrending potency. For Trotman, the key to revamping it and taking it to a higher, unexpected level is turning it into a playful, high-spirited duet with veteran trombonist Jeff Bradshaw. Bradshaw simmers along in harmony role adding sizzle and heft (in a horn section with trumpeter Alex Lee Clark) to Trotman’s melody before emerging as a powerful voice center stage on the second verse.
After riffing off each other for a few bars over the non-stop blues drenched simmering organ of Mitch Henry, Trotman and Bradshaw take us to the most ear-popping spot in the track. It’s a festive celebratory breakdown,- a free for all, hard grooving jam that allows the two to break loose, trade fours and improvise with abandon over wild, sizzling brass harmonies. Nothing happens without these poppin’ killer grooves created by Sherrod Barnes (guitar), Keithen Foster (bass), Atticus Cole (percussion) and Charles Haynes (drums). The urban jazz genre is sometimes accused of being too “cover-happy,” but Trotman and Bradshaw’s adventure-filled “Grapevine” is a worthwhile exception that demands repeated, volume all the way up listening.