by Anne Carlini
Thomas Heflin – Morning Star
| Title – Morning Star
Artist – Thomas Heflin
For those unaware, for trumpeter Thomas Heflin, his Tennessee roots have always been a central part of his musical identity.His laid-back playing style mirrors his easy-going personality, and his songs are always inviting, soulful and melodic.Heflin grew up in Clarksville, TN. His grandfather, a painter and graphic artist, passed his passion for the arts to Heflin’s mother.
Heflin grew up taking piano lessons and listening to wide variety of musical styles, but it wasn’t until he took up the trumpet at the age of 11 that things came into sharp focus.
Around the same time, his grandfather gave him a recording of Louis Armstrong, and he quickly fell in love with jazz.
After high school, Heflin attended the University of Tennessee where he discovered the music pianist, Donald Brown, who was professor of jazz piano at the time. Brown, who hails from Memphis, Tennessee, is considered one of the most influential jazz composers of his generation.
Next, Heflin moved to New Jersey to attend William Paterson University for his master’s degree and to study with another Memphis-born pianist, James Williams.
Heflin’s debut album, Symmetry, featured Williams on piano, and his newest album, Morning Star pays tribute to Williams (who passed away in 2004) by showcasing one of his compositions, Self-Esteem.
1. Radio Intro (2:10)
Interestingly, Morning Star is presented as a late-night radio show (complete with station IDs, and a radio DJ) and features songs that flow effortlessly from one to the next.
Opening on the appropriately titled, channel-surfing Radio Intro and that is followed by the euphorically-sculptured title track Morning Star and the Gospel-tinged magnificence of Self-Esteem (featuring Mavis “Swan” Poole), and then we get brought forth the lushly orchestrated Evensong and then comes the softly crafted Interlude.
Next up is the thoughtful trumpeting of Haiku (Trumpet Intro) and its longer, more joyful Haiku which are in turn backed by the short interlude within Station Break before we are presented with the solid workmanship of The Moon Singer, a reprise of Morning Star, the album rounding out on the luxurious tones of Anna Breschine, closing on the aptly-named, and laid back grooves of Radio Outro.
Furthermore, the music on Morning Star features a traditional jazz group underpinned by layers of Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and strings, as well as percussion and additional woodwinds to create a warm, soulful sound reminiscent of the CTI recordings of the 1970s. The music also fuses elements of modern jazz with R&B, gospel, and neo-soul. The album was conceived around the title track Morning Star, and listeners may notice reworked snippets of the bassline and melody from the title track in other songs on the album.
The music was recorded at the beginning of the CoVid outbreak, and the “morning star” – the last star seen at night before the new day arrives – also serves as a musical symbol of hope and optimism through these dark times.
The radio DJ (Brandon Robertson) presents the tracks through poetic words of encouragement, creating the feeling of listening to an inspirational radio host during a late-night car ride.
The album features several notable musicians including world-renowned tenor saxophonist Gregory Tardy (Elvin Jones), Mavis “Swan” Poole (Lauryn Hill, Prince) on vocals, Peter Stoltzman (Steve Gadd/Eddie Gomez) on piano, Steve Haines on bass, Aaron Matson on guitar, Ariel Pocock on vocals, Xavier Ware on drums, Dan Hitchcock on woodwinds and Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” (¡Cubanismo!) on percussion.
According to Heflin, “The music for the album is inspired things that bring me joy and hope. “Morning Star” is the Slavic translation of my wife’s first name. ‘Anna Breschine’ is my daughter’s name and ‘The Moon Singer’ is inspired by a book by Clyde Robert Bulla that I like to read to her at night.”
“In the story, a lonely child sings beautiful, wordless melodies to himself out in the forest. Evensong, which means ‘a service of evening prayers’ is meant to evoke a late night musical meditation. Haiku is a quirky song based on the chord changes of one of my favorite jazz standards, Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates.’”
The only composition that is not an original is Self-Esteem, by James Williams, an inspirational song that perfectly encompasses the positivity and soulfulness of its composer.
Originally recorded on his album Truth, Justice, and the Blues, this version has been rearranged to feature vocalist Mavis “Swan” Poole singing the uplifting lyrics by Pamela Baskin Watson.
Featuring: Gregory Tardy, Dan Hitchcock, Aaron Matson, Peter Stoltzman, Xavier Ware, Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco,” Ariel Pocock and Mavis “Swan” Poole.