This is a disc for the Strayhorn connoisseurs. You hear it in the understated rendition of one of Strayhorn's best-known songs, "Lush Life," with Terell Stafford's buttery flugelhorn refusing to pander or wallow. You know it by the omissions of "Take the 'A' Train" and "Chelsea Bridge." Instead, Stafford digs into the obscure "Smada" (an outtake on the first Duke Ellington LP, from 1950) for one of the finest solos of his career (and his second of the song); conjoined phrases that ripple and surge and bob with an effortless élan, nailing Strayhorn's ability to rustle up a ruckus with sophisticated panache. On "Day Dream," Stafford's trumpet lingers lovingly on the momentary dips in the melody during his first reading, then skips along smartly in the solos, nicely nudged by pianist Bruce Barth, who delivers a solo followed by Stafford's polished cadenza.
Another welcome aspect of this collection is how the tonal palette of the horns evokes Strayhorn's '40s and '50s heyday with Ellington, a period that straddled the birth of bebop. Stafford puts the mute on his trumpet for some bluesy, yawling effects, but even without it, his brassy tone struts in noble tribute to the sass and beauty of "Lana Turner." Saxophonist Tim Warfield is fond of plumbing down to the dulcet burr of his tenor tone in a manner reminiscent of Lucky Thompson or Ben Webster. Warfield also has one soprano tune, the rousing "Johnny Come Lately," which, together with the opener, "Raincheck," bookend the disc with superb trumpet-sax exchanges (and in the middle is the opening to "Multicolored Blue" for another example). Barth's arrangements, like the rest of the album, honor Strayhorn by providing the essence of his scholarship, innovation and love of a well-turned passage, while avoiding slavish imitation. The entire quintet (rounded out by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall) capture the self-assurance and equilibrium that gives most any Strayhorn tune a wealth of integrity.