Rebecca Coupe Franks – Check the Box
Check the Box is the long-awaited follow-up to Coupe Frank’s RCF 2007 release, 100 Per Cent, with the trumpeter’s Groovemobile band (Sheryl Bailey, Jamie Leonhart, Dan Robbins, Carola Grey, Freddy Bryant and KJ Denhert). The new CD features Perdomo, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney (a fellow Bay Area transplant), drummer Richie Morales and guest vocalist Summer Corrie, a talented singer who was a former student of Coupe Franks. The album is infused with leader’s smooth phrasings, warm tones, relaxed feel and spirited jaunts. All the tunes are originals. “For my first couple of albums recorded in the ’90s, I interspersed my own compositions with a few standards,” she says. “But I like to write songs, so that’s what I like focusing on for my albums.”
Coupe Franks opens Check the Box with the bright, upbeat, Latin-vibed instrumental “Exposure,” with a medium-tempo bossa nova feel. “I wrote this when I was in California,” she says, then laughs. “I had a tooth infection. They ended up pulling the tooth. But during all the pain, this tune made me feel better.” That’s followed by the title track (“a groovy montuno,” she calls it) that’s about the brain-numbing work of filling out forms, meeting deadlines and feeling “like a number in a long line of red tape.” The groove sparks and the tempo accelerates in the middle with her vibrant trumpet solo. The leader sings the lyrics. “I never really considered myself a singer, but my father, who recently passed away, encouraged it,” she says.
Coupe Franks’ voice is spotlighted on three other tracks: the deep-souled, boogie-woogie story song “Starting All Over” (also featuring her on plunger muted trumpet), the delete-the-negative, begin-the-healing funky tune “New & Now,” which is all about, as she sings, “Stand[ing] up tall and reach[ing] for the sky,” and the swinging bossa jazz beauty “Next to Me” (which features her soaring on muted trumpet and flugelhorn).
For the other three vocal numbers, Coupe Franks gave Corrie her first studio opportunity to shine on the catchy, pop-ish song “Be the People” (sung with a Gil Scott-Heron-like delivery), the jazz waltz “Love Storm” (with the leader’s trilling trumpet) and the blues-infused pop song “Life Has Just Begun,” on which Coupe Franks overdubs her own trombone part. “I really wanted a horn section for this song,” she says with a laugh.
Other Check the Box highlights include the 6/8 time “Chase” that has a fetching opening trumpet riff and cascading piano lines, the New Orleans gospel cooker “Distraction” with Perdomo on Hammond B3 organ, and one of the strongest tunes of the collection, “Mass,” which is taken at breakneck velocity. “This has a Mingus-y feeling,” Coupe Franks says. “I usually write on the piano, but I composed this on the trumpet. It’s a minor blues that I love playing fast.”
The three duos with Perdomo include the simple yet beautiful blues/gospel tune “Thursday,” a slowed down refrain of the opener (“Exposure”) and the ballad “PaJ” in memory of Coupe Franks’ father. “I wrote that song three years ago,” she says. “I never thought he would pass away but he did. That song isn’t an homage, but it is dedicated to him.”
Even though she’s excited by Check the Box seeing the light of day and is already getting positive responses from radio play, she has her mind on the future already. She’s got lots of ideas based on her experience playing duets with Perdomo and others. Coupe Franks says, “I love playing in the duo format.” She pauses, then continues, “In fact, I could do a whole record of duos. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of Rebecca Coupe Franks’ remarkable career as trumpeter/composer/bandleader. The San Francisco Bay Area native was mentored by Joe Henderson during her youth in the ’80s, became a regular on the New York City jazz scene in the ’90s, and today is the owner of RCF Music Studio and RCF Records, a music composer/producer for film and television, and a freelance trumpet player. Coupe Franks has been continuing to develop her creatively designed music that’s organically crafted as an amalgam of styles including straight-ahead jazz, Latin, and blues & gospel by way of New Orleans, along with inflections of pop. On her fifth outing as leader she delivers a sumptuous mix of instrumentals and vocals tunes, with Coupe Franks making her singing debut on four tracks.
“I’ve always liked to combine all the forms of jazz over the years,” Coupe Franks says. “I’ve never fit into any categories, so I do what I want to do.” When she was younger, she lived in Venezuela for a year playing in salsa and merengue bands. In addition, she has an affinity for R&B music and roots grooves. And, as is evident on three instrumental Check the Box tunes, she excels in a duo format, in this case with piano band mate Luis Perdomo, who hails from Venezuela. “I’ve known Luis for so many years,” she says. “I was one of the first people he played music with in New York when he first moved here. After that, I was always running into him, and even sat in with him over the years. I love his Latin tinge. But this album is the first time we played together in the studio. We just connected. Everything clicked.”
Coupe Franks grew up on the Peninsula south of San Francisco and later lived near Santa Cruz. She began playing trumpet at age 10 (her mother, brother, grandfather and great uncle also played the instrument), and by 16 was playing professionally. It was during this time that she met Henderson at a jam session. After hearing her play, he invited her over for lessons. This important relationship inspired Coupe Franks to compose a tribute to Joe Henderson, entitled Exhibition: Tribute to Joe Henderson, which was released in 2004.
Eventually Coupe Franks moved to New York (following in the footsteps of her good friend saxophonist Virginia Mayhew), took classes at New School (she graduated with a BFA in Jazz Studies) and did postgraduate work at New York University in composition. She performed with the likes of Kenny Barron, Lou Donaldson, Ben Riley and Victor Lewis, as well as reconnected with Henderson who played on her debut disc.
In the early ’90s, Coupe Franks recorded a duo album with Mayhew, Now’s the Time, for Philology. She embarked on her own that same year with a pair of albums for the Justice Records label: 1990’s Suit of Armor (with Henderson, Riley, Barron, Buster Williams, Leni Stern and Carolyn Brandy) and 1991’s All of a Sudden (with Donny McCaslin, Javon Jackson, Scott Colley, Kevin Hays and Yoran Israel). In 1996, she took an NYC hiatus, returning to California to be closer to her family, play gigs on the West Coast and compose her next CD, Exhibition: Tribute to Joe Henderson (which featured Sylvia Cuenca, Adam Schulman and Essiet Okon Essiet). That album was followed three years later by 100 Per Cent (both on RCF Records).