Trumpeter Steph Richards Follows Her Horn's Lead On 'Take The Neon Lights'

Mar 12, 2019
Originally published on March 13, 2019 11:04 am
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Trumpet player Steph Richards was born in Alberta, studied music in the U.S. and Canada and moved to New York in 2008. There, she co-founded the Asphalt Orchestra. She's also recorded with composers Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. In 2014, she began teaching at UC San Diego. Last year, Steph Richards released a solo trumpet album. Now, she's back with a quartet. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Richards is one to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "STALKED BY TALL BUILDINGS")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Some jazz trumpeters swagger like they're showing the horn who's boss - not without reason. Trumpet is such a ridiculous device, with the player's lips doing all the hard work, having dominance over it is something to celebrate. But there are also what I think of as listening trumpet players attuned to the horn's idiosyncrasies and pet sounds. They don't ignore history or technique but can start from scratch in a way, following the horn where it leads. Steph Richards is that kind of trumpet player.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "TAKE THE NEON LIGHTS")

WHITEHEAD: Trumpeters who investigate the horn's far corners and quirks of construction are found all through jazz history. Duke Ellington hired a few. For her composition "Brooklyn Machine," Steph Richards removes a small piece of tubing from the horn. So when she pushes one valve, the sound escapes through the side, not the muted bell. That lets her duet with herself in distinct, alternating voices - like a ventriloquist.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "BROOKLYN MACHINE")

WHITEHEAD: This music's from the Steph Richards Quartet (ph) CD "Take The Neon Lights." Sometimes she'll move closer to the lyrical mainstream without coming all the way over. Here she is on flugelhorn from the piece "Stalked By Tall Buildings."

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "STALKED BY TALL BUILDINGS")

WHITEHEAD: The album "Take The Neon Lights" is partly a salute to New York, the jazz capital where musicians are expected to display their proficiency as well as a personal voice. The moments when Steph Richards blasts off are more effective for all the restraint.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "SKULL OF THEATRES")

WHITEHEAD: The quartet of Steph Richards is a band of listeners creating a collective sound environment that amplifies what the trumpeter is up to. Pianist James Carney might play directly on the strings or prepare them for a clangier sound. Sam Minaie on bass and Andrew Munsey on drums likewise match the leader's atmospherics, small gestures or ratcheting rhythms. The quartet's morphing music pulls me in because, loud or quiet, they keep it moving.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPH RICHARDS' "TAKE THE NEON LIGHTS")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and the Audio Beat. He reviewed "Take The Neon Lights" by the Steph Richards Quartet.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about why emergency room visits are so expensive. Sixty dollars for ibuprofen - and why the costs are so unpredictable. My guest will be Sarah Kliff, a health policy journalist for Vox. She collected ER bills from around the country and then got the stories behind the bills - stories of hidden fees, high deductibles, out-of-network doctors and more. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SACKVILLE ALL STARS' "ROSALIE")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.