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Album Review: What We Play is Life

Lee Hogans' Latest Album is an Expressive Showcase of His Jazz, Funk, and Soul Skills
Lee Hogans
Lee Hogans Sigrid Thørbjornsen

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ--Trumpeter Lee Hogans’ latest album, What We Play is Life, is an impressive showcase of his fluency in the languages of jazz, funk, and soul. As Lee is a current member of legendary bassist Marcus Miller’s band and a former member of the bands of Maceo Parker, Prince, and Jay-Z, this comes as no surprise. 

What We Play is Life starts out with a sentimental title track before sliding into Groove, an interestingly produced tune with funky melodic lines, striking changes, and a tight rhythm section, the first of many such tracks in this album. Lee’s band then changes gears with For Her, a soulful keyboard-driven flugelhorn piece, after which the funk resumes with 1172 Bounce, a deep groove in which Lee’s Atlanta roots are audible.

Marcus Miller joins the band on fretless bass and bass clarinet halfway through the album on The Way of Chuang Tzu, a 70s-style funk-jazz tune with contemporary jazz lines and soulful improvisation. (Chuang Tzu was a renowned ancient Chinese wartime philosopher.)

Following Marcus Miller's cameo, Lee’s version of Gemini is certainly one of the high points of this album. The band is joined by a vocalist, whose tones intermingle with the trumpet and saxophone during the chorus and bridge to great effect.

Lee’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Children of the Night is similarly impressive; his decision to do a guitar-driven soul rendition of the song is a refreshing change from the norm, as listening to contemporary instrumentalists trying to recreate the Jazz Messengers’ hard bop flavor of the tune is a tiring affair.

One drawback to this album is its length. At 15 tracks, there are many tunes not mentioned above, and the album could have easily been split in two without harming its musical narrative.

What We Play is Life is an expressive, worthwhile album, forthcoming in Summer 2015. The album single, Groove, is available now on iTunes and CDBaby. Lee Hogans is a regular New Brunswick Jazz Project performer, and you can check him out online at LeeHogans.com.

Album personnel:

Lee Hogans - Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Programming

Anja-Christin Nielsen - Trumpet, Vocals

Brian Hogans - Alto Sax

Lamont Caldwell - Tenor Sax

Jesse Fischer - Piano, keyboards

Seth Johnson - Guitar

Kellen Harrison - Bass

Jerome Jennings - Drums

Special Guests:

Marcus Miller-Bass (The Way of Chuang Tzu)

Stephen Jones - Executive Producer, Congas