In 2005 during a joint interview with Kermit Ruffins and Maurice Brown, Irvin Mayfield noted that the best trumpet cutting session he’d ever heard was between Wynton Marsalis and Leroy Jones. That anecdote reflects the esteem Jones is held in by local musicians, notoriety that hasn’t entirely filtered through to the general public. This may be in part due to the fact that Jones worked for many years as the featured soloist in Harry Connick, Jr.’s band, work that ironically allowed him to play in front of large concert audiences yet kept him in a relatively anonymous setting.
Jones also doesn’t fit neatly into the New Orleans jazz aesthetic. Though he plays traditional jazz and has a brass band pedigree, Jones has developed a sonorous, mellow tone over the years on trumpet and flugelhorn—a style seemingly at odds with the Bourbon Street histrionics most people associate with New Orleans trumpeters. But nobody in town is more expressive, more capable of bending a gorgeous melody to his own ends. On Sweeter Than a Summer Breeze, Jones has finally found the perfect medium for that tone: a lush and languorous collection of classic ballads with a conceptual coherence which lends it the ambience of a suite.
From the moment Jones plunges into the theme of “Yesterdays” at the outset without the usual preamble, his horn is in total control of the album’s flow, balanced hypnotically against the rocking chair pulse of Todd Duke’s guitar, Mitchell Player’s bass and Jones’ magnificent string orchestrations, played superbly by Matt Rhody and Helen Gillet. The powerful opening passage continues through “I Remember Clifford” and “In a Sentimental Mood” before climaxing in one of the most heartfelt renditions of “My Funny Valentine” I’ve ever heard. Jones invests “Melancholy Serenade” with a full measure of pathos, an elegaic moment that sets up his epic reading of “My One and Only Love,” which turns the wistful smile of a melody directly against the swells of the string arrangement in a wonderfully sensuous exchange. The romantic reverie moves like a scene change into the almost jaunty string intro to “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Jones finishes off with the title track, an original composition that showcases another siren-like melody. Jones follows through on every single note of this outstanding performance, phrasing everything perfectly against the strings in a narcotic reverie without ever allowing the emotion to curdle into tritely sentimental or saccharine territory.