Maceo Parker: Pass The Peas

This live cut of the James Brown classic “Pass the Peas” features his longtime horn section -- Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley -- at their absolute best. The group, a collection of James Brown alumni and other top-notch funk musicians, is much looser and improvisatory than the Brown band, and it's clear that each of the horn players relishes their musical freedom.

Fred Wesley kicks things off with the first solo, staking his claim as the funkiest trombonist of all time. Melodically, he rarely strays from the blues scale, but he builds a powerful and exciting solo by using short, rhythmically precise phrases and juxtaposing his ideas as if having a conversation with himself. By the time Maceo gets the crowd chanting "Fred! Fred!" his dark, juicy tone is sailing expertly over the groove.

Maceo adds his two cents afterward, and the group continues for nearly 12 minutes without losing that essential rhythmic feel. Guitarist Rodney Jones leads the way, and the crowd obviously eats it up. They finally build into a massive chordal explosion, giving the crowd a chance to cheer before moving on with the rest of their uncompromisingly funky show.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fletcher Henderson: Fidgety Feet

Fletcher Henderson's pioneering jazz band relied heavily on the talents of his sidemen, and his arrangement of “Fidgety Feet” calls for many of the vast solo resources of the band. While several other band members solo, the star of this track is trombonist Jimmy Harrison, whose aggressive breaks and virtuosic solo set the stage for the band's trademark swing feeling.

The arrangement uses Harrison as the spark plug to jump-start the first strain's driving two-feel. He has a solo break early in the chart which showcases his enormous, round sound and overpowering swing feeling. Later, other instruments get a chance at the breaks, but none convey the power of Harrison's trombone. Harrison gets his full solo about halfway through the tune. Here, he shows why he was considered -- alongside Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong -- to be the most sophisticated improvisers of his day. Rhythmically, his ideas fit right into the pocket, and melodically he incorporates wide leaps, expressive rips and even some chromaticism -- a difficult feat on his awkward instrument. The range he employs is also impressive; he pops out high notes as cleanly as he executes in the lower register.

Even during the cacophonous ending, Harrison's resonant sound rumbles underneath the rest of the band and supports the final hit, ending the song with the same booming exuberance with which he started it off.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kid Ory: Muskrat Ramble

Kid Ory is best known as the original proponent of the New Orleans tailgate trombone style, but he is often overlooked as one of the important composers of early jazz. "Muskrat Ramble" was his biggest hit, made famous during his tenure with Louis Armstrong.

This version, recorded almost 20 years later, has the hallmarks of the Dixieland revival style that Ory helped launch in the late 1930s: clean ensemble interaction, exposed sections for various soloists, and a more polished feel than the original recordings. Ory's trombone style had changed little; however, what he lacks in virtuosity and innovation, he compensates with a bright, exuberant tone, impeccable rhythmic sensibility and emotive growls and effects.

Although Ory never takes a solo per se, he gets many moments to shine, often shouting and growling through the trombone during breaks and belting out counterpoint underneath each melodic strain. His triumphant arpeggio after the final chorus gives him the last word, followed only by the final hit that ends the tune.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson/ Kai Winding Trombone Octet: A Night In Tunisia

In April 1956, eight of New York's top trombonists joined an all-star rhythm section to record Jay & Kai + 6, an album that has become a must-have for any trombone lover's music library. The historic recording was an expansion of the immensely successful Jay & Kai recordings featuring J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Like the quintet recordings, Johnson and Winding take turns as featured soloists with the ensemble. Johnson is up first with his arrangement of the bebop classic "A Night In Tunisia", and he sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Candido Camero's congas set up a trombone groove anchored by Varsalona and Mitchell's beefy bass trombones. Johnson enters a few bars later, gliding smoothly over the others with his pure, dark tone. At the bridge, Urbie Green's screaming lead precedes Johnson's recapitulation of the melody. Johnson's solo soars over his tight, hard-swinging arrangement which builds up to his final cadenza. A bright, dissonant chord caps off the exciting finish, and Johnson leaves one last improvised flourish to remind us of his status as the top dog among the bebop trombonists.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Frank Rosolino: I Love You

Frank Rosolino could burn through a jazz standard in a way that few other trombonists could. "I Love You", recorded in the Netherlands with a Dutch rhythm section five years before his death, stands as one of the most stunning documentations of Rosolino's prodigious talent.

Rosolino pulls no punches from the opening solo trombone intro; however, we soon discover that he's just getting started. His presentation of the melody sits perfectly within the tempo laid down by the rhythm section. Rosolino launches into a five-minute solo, implying the melody while engaging in nonstop trombone acrobatics. He spends most of the time in the upper register of the horn, creating an exciting effect that he sustains throughout the entire solo.

But it doesn't stop there: Rosolino takes the head out after short solos by van Dyke, Schols and Engels, but instead of stopping at the end of the form, he keeps blowing for another minute, just in case anyone thought he might be getting tired. As the track fades out to Rosolino's continuous burn, we're left wondering just how long he might have kept going were it not for the recording engineer's fade-out!

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington (featuring Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton): It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

This rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" from the band's 1944 Carnegie Hall concert, is an updated version of the original 1932 recording. Despite the differences--Ray Nance taking the vocal chorus out front, the high-energy tenor solo from Al Sears and subsequent shout chorus-- the plunger mute work of trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton is what makes this track soar. His signature sound is the "ya ya" effect, but here he shows his musical growth beyond that plunger trick. He alternates between high-pitched, closed-plunger riffs and "ya ya" phrases as if having a musical conversation with himself. He also demonstrates a prodigious command of his upper register, which he uses for melodic contrast. Few musicians have been able to achieve the range of timbre in a single solo that Nanton does here. Sears starts his solo with a sense of understatement that provides excellent contrast before building it up into the climactic final shout section.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmie Lunceford (featuring Trummy Young): Margie

Although he is best-known for his work with Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and 1960s, trombonist Trummy Young made his name with Jimmie Lunceford in the 1930s. “Margie”was his most prominent feature as well as one of the band's biggest hits. Young both sings and plays on this swinging arrangement by Sy Oliver. Young's singing style is breathy and joking, his high-pitched tenor a perfect match for the light, jaunty feel of the piece. However, what really stands out is his trombone work. Young plays with unrivaled control of his instrument, staying mostly in the upper register, where he produces a smooth, bright tone. His breaks feature large leaps in pitch, which are very difficult to execute. To top it off, he ends the tune on a high F#, near the absolute top of the instrument's range. The overall effect is one of infectious, danceable swing as well as musical virtuosity. Young was a perfect fit with the Lunceford band and his exposure there helped him launch a long and successful career in jazz.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Gibson: This End Up

Trombonist David Gibson, a graduate of the Eastman School, supplemented his musical education with on-the-job training, including a six-year stint with a sextet at the New York City club “Smoke”. On “This End’s Up” we hear Gibson’s controlled, precise tone on this Jared Gold-penned composition. The music is derivative of a time past and competently played. Gibson is a talented player, but I would have preferred a gutsier edge to his playing than what he shows here. Accompanied by the swinging, soulful organist Jared Gold, whose Hammond sound is reminiscent of Jimmy Smith , Gibson’s trombone has a deliberate, soulful feel that is promising but restrained. Tolentino’s alto is crisp and bright and provides an uplifting sense of flight. Gold manipulates the sound of his B3 and plays with great abandon. Davis and Gold together keep the rhythm steady as the melody fades away.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifton Anderson: Z

Clifton Anderson has been standing on a stage or bandstand next to his uncle Sonny Rollins since 1983. Such is the typical audience's insatiable desire to hear the great Rollins play as much as humanly possible, Anderson, like any Rollins sideman, has to feel that he's "vamping 'til ready" when taking a solo of his own. However, those who manage to give Anderson their undivided attention know that he has developed into one of the better mainstream trombonists in jazz. Decade is regrettably only Anderson's second CD as a leader, coming about that many years from the first (Landmarks), and on it he impresses both as a player and composer.

Kenny Garrett made a guest appearance on Landmarks and does so again on the well-arranged track "Z." The easy-striding, catchy theme is played by Anderson and Garrett's alto in pure and silky intertwining harmony. Anderson's solo shows his ever-present J.J. Johnson influence, and the suspended time sections accentuate his rich tone. He mixes impeccable legato phrasing with rapid, fluidly articulated single-note runs. Garrett's technically adept and intricate boppish lines are the highlight of his all-too-brief improv. Stephen Scott's piano feature is kicked into high gear by drummer Steve Jordan's aggressive encouragement. Just when it appears that the two horns are in the process of closing out the piece, they step aside for Christian McBride's nimble and soulfully expressive bass solo, an unexpected treat that precedes the for real infectious reprise.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Count Basie & His Orchestra (featuring Al Grey): Makin' Whoopee

Frank Sinatra's 1966 live album Sinatra At The Sands with Count Basie is remembered as one of his finest. Highlights from Basie's opening set (sans Frank) were issued on a Telarc CD a few years back, but this performance was issued on the original Sinatra double LP. Thad Jones’ arrangement of "Makin' Whoopee" was written to feature Al Grey, one of the most prominent soloists in the Basie band of that time. Jones’ brilliant underscoring adroitly sets off Grey’s unsurpassed ability with the plunger mute. The band gets its moment to shine too, during the hard-swinging shout chorus.

But it's Grey's wailing plunger work on the out-chorus that steals the show. He lays so far back into the groove that it's impossible to tell where he's feeling the beat; nonetheless, his unmistakable roar cuts through. His virtuosic flourishes are capped by a brief cadenza where—perhaps just to show that he could—he pops out a high F. Wow. The breathtaking finish serves as a reminder of Grey's virtuosity and his importance to the fabric of the 1960s Count Basie sound.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Albert Mangelsdorff: Ant Stepped On An Elephant's Toe

Albert Mangelsdorff's unique approach to the trombone is abundantly displayed in this trio performance. His aggressive use of advanced multiphonic techniques is featured from his rubato solo introduction through his wild and unrestrained improvisation. Mouzon follows his cues excellently, complementing Mangelsdorff's flourishes with perfectly-placed rhythmic responses. The tune relaxes into a funky groove as Pastorius takes center stage with his own solo. Mangelsdorff comes back in and blows behind him before the group transitions back into the head, this time noticably faster than the introduction. Rather than end there though, the melody unravels slowly. The track ends humorously with Mangelsdorff playing a figure across the entire range of his instrument, before a single unison note ends the song.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dicky Wells: Japanese Sandman

Even before the Quintette of the Hot Club of France started recording, Django Reinhardt was a first-call player whenever American artists recorded in Paris. Owing that Django could barely read and write his own name, let alone music scores, it was amazing that he achieved such a status. But his ear was precise and he could translate what he heard to the guitar with stunning accuracy, and that is a major part of his legendary reputation.

Trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Dickie Wells were touring Paris as part of the Teddy Hill Orchestra when they recorded this session for Swing (Dizzy Gillespie was also with the band, and ironically, he was the only trumpeter from the band not invited to play at the session!) This delightful version of “Japanese Sandman” was the last song cut that day and it features remarkable solos by all three principals. Wells is up first, barely touching the melody before moving into his own invention. Yet he never loses sight of the opening motive and many of his ideas are related to that motive, either rhythmically or melodically. Coleman follows with his sunny, open tone. His first half-chorus features a set of perfectly-balanced phrases. Then the last phrase spills into the bridge and his phrasing shifts three beats off the form. Coleman keeps things that way until he ties it all up with a beautifully-played 6-bar phrase. Then Django steps up with a mostly single-string solo that features some intriguing harmonic choices in the 5th-8th bars. The rest of the solo is rather straight-forward harmonically, so it’s hard to know whether Django was fully aware of what he was doing and if he considered it a momentary mis-step (If Dizzy had been at the session, he would have known!). However, it was not an isolated incident and Django, who later expressed admiration for the harmonic innovations of Gillespie and Charlie Parker, would experiment again with advanced harmonies in the next few years—several years before bebop was born.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Luis Bonilla: Uh, Uh, Uh...

Steeped in a Latin tradition that utilizes the trombone in an explosive way, Luis Bonilla is true to the tradition and adds his own touch of funk for good measure. On “Uh, Uh , Uh...”, he plays with a easy, swinging swagger that is countered by the angular sound of Ivan Renta’s saxophone. This jagged, darting composition features the rapid fire drumming of John Riley, the staccato piano syncopations of Arturo O’ Farrill and the propulsive bass of Andy McKee. Bonilla negotiates the twists and turns with an exciting display of trombone virtuosity. When he and Renta play together, their combined sound creates the impression that 1 + 1 = 3. An energetic, spirited and (at times) free-form romp.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz (with Bob Brookmeyer): Rustic Hop

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz helped raise money for his own salary as artist-in-residence at Stanford University by giving one concert per quarter. He brought in a host of guest artists for these events, including Bob Brookmeyer, who showed up on campus to meet students, rehearse the campus jazz band (I still recall him exhorting the horns to play with more energy—repeating the advice "make BIG mistakes" as though it were some strange mantra from a new religion), and then pair up with Getz for a concert in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

For their gig, Stan and Bob played a number of charts they had recorded more than thirty years earlier. After the performance, I expressed my surprise to Brookmeyer that Stan played all the compositions, some of them quite intricate, without looking at any music. After all, Getz had recorded these charts before I was born, and the Stanford concert was a one-time event—yet Getz dug into these pieces as though they were on his set list every night. Brookmeyer shrugged his shoulders and commented "Well, that's Stan Getz."

The Brookmeyer partnership was just one of many musical relationships for Getz during the mid-1950s. The Cool Sounds album finds him in five different line-ups. But the interplay with the valve trombonist is especially effective. The chemistry between Getz and Brookmeyer is in the same league as those other ultra-cool period pairings: Mulligan & Baker, Marsh & Konitz, Sims & Cohn, heck maybe even Bogart and Bacall. Hear Getz riffing behind Brookmeyer's solo, then starting his own improvisation with a variant of the same riff before launching into a slick, thematically-cohesive workout over the changes. Getz was a master at these medium-up tempos, and knew better than any tenorist of his generation how to be hot and sweet at the same time. I can't find much rusticity in this "Rustic Hop"—which sounds to me more like a joyride in city traffic—but it does keep hopping for the duration. A stirring example of a band that could have been far more influential if it had stayed together longer.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacob Garchik: abstract/01

"abstract/01" is an amalgam of jazz and contemporary classical music—a four-and-a-half minute piece in which the ratio of improvised-to-composed elements is obscure to the point of being almost immaterial. Trombonist Jacob Garchik's non-tonal opening melody, while presumably composed, is rendered with a quiet yet palpable spontaneity that morphs seamlessly into improvisation. Garchik plays sustained, thoughtful phrases with a tone as smooth as milk chocolate. Similar to the overall performance itself—which blurs the line between composition and improvisation—Garchik's solo seems to combine conscious decision-making with a seat-of-the-pants impulsiveness. Drummer Dan Weiss and pianist Jacob Sacks are both sensitive interpreters of Garchik's spacious concept, often responding to the trombonist's choices in tandem. The music rises and falls in brief episodes, giving the impression of being almost wind-blown. Abstract, to be sure, and very attractive in its willfully translucent way.

July 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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