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Step Tempest reviews Joe Magnarelli “Lookin’ Up!”…







It’s been 20 years since trumpeter Joe Magnarelli released his debut on the Criss Cross label. In 1994, “Mags” was already an established voice on the music scene having worked with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Brother Jack McDuff and Lionel Hampton.  Since then, he has worked with a plethora of groups and artists, from the Vanguard Orchestra to Harry Connick Jr. to Jane Monheit to the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

His 10th CD as a leader, “Lookin’ Up“, is his debut for Posi-Tone Records and is a highly attractive session from beginning to end. With the rhythm section of bassist Mike Karn (Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Harold Mabern) and drummer Jason Brown (Wayne Escoffery, David Hazeltine) plus the articulate pianist Anthony Wonsey, Magnarelli (who plays his mellow flugelhorn on several cuts) weaves his way through a 10-song program evenly split between originals and standards.

Trombonist Steve Davis joins the group on 6 cuts, serving as both a harmony voice and counterpoint to the leader’s trumpet.  Their interaction on the original “Third Set” includes both call-and-response as well as harmony.  The tune is infused with the feel of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, from Wonsey’s “bouncing” chordal accompaniment to the drive of Karn and Brown.  The blend of Davis’s rich and burnished tones with Mags’ muted trumpet give “Blue Key” (a Magnarelli original) a pleasing sound.  Wonsey’s pleasing solo exploration sets up the handsome trumpet solo. Karn’s splendid walking bass leads in the rest of the band on “In Walked Lila” (composed by saxophonist John Handy – there’s a voice one needs to her more often); everybody gets to “strut his stuff” and does so without going on too long (Brown’s joy-filled bass kick and snare rolls jump out of the speakers.) The pianist gives a lively “Satin Doll”-flavored opening to Magnarelli’s “Easy Transition“, a medium-tempo bluesy romp.  Davis displays his formidable yet amiable “blues” chops while the trumpeter lets fly several lively phrases

The flugelhorn makes an appearance on the lovely original ballad, “Inner Beauty.” Magnarelli weaves the melody and solo around the delicate piano chords and Karn’s intelligent counterpoint while Brown’s brushes sweep the piece along.  Wonsey’s introduction to Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Darn That Dream” opens with a slight flourish before he states the melody and sets the stage for the leader to come in on flugelhorn and repeats the melody. The rhythm section tiptoes in at the close of the second verse while Magnarelli repeats the melody once more before taking a well-fashioned solo.

Lookin’ Up” breaks no new ground, all the while showing the listener how 5 musicians can have fun in the studio while making meaningful music. Each player contributes to the overall excellence of the performances with a special tip of the hat to the active and engaged rhythm section (including Anthony Wonsey.)  Joe Magnarelli’s move to Posi-Tone Records makes great sense – this is a label keeping the spirit of hard-bop alive and well into the 21s Century (while not ignoring newer developments).  To learn more about the leader, go  To find out more about this and other Posi-Tone releases, go to