Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trombone Heaven on Steve Turre's The Bones of Art:

Steve Turre The Bones of Art High Note HCD 7251
For over thirty years Art Blakey was as influential a band leader as there was in jazz. From 1947 until his death in 1991, his group the Jazz Messengers was a university of jazz  for young and talented musicians. Many of these young lions would later become some of the period’s most influential players of the genre.  Steve Turre was one of the few musicians who played trombone with Blakey and can be heard on Blakey’s 1973 album Anthenaga  along with then members Cedar Walton and Woody Shaw.  His experience with Blakey left a lasting impression on the young trombonist and his latest album, The Bones of Art, is as much a dedication to the late band leader as it is a celebration of the diversity of expression available on his instrument, the trombone.  Steve used the Blakey connection to realize his dream of fronting a band with three trombone voices leading the way. He assembled fellow Blakey trombone alumni Steve Davis, Frank Lacy and Robin Eubanks to contribute their individual signature sounds along with pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Willie Jones III .

The Bones of Art may well be the best trombone featured  album since the seminal collaborations made by Kai Winding and JJ Johnson on albums like their 1960 The Great Kai and JJ. The album starts off with a dedication to trombone legend Slide Hampton, “Slide’s Ride” is a driving, hard bop smoker that features the three synchronous trombones of Davis, Lacy and Turre demonstrating the true meaning of simpatico. Pianist Xavier Davis sounds like a young McCoy Tyner before the solos start. Listening to the three voices with their nuanced interpretations is most interesting. Turre leads off with a boisterous medium register solo that has a growly gusto, Davis’ solo is more billowy, blissfully floating with a light airiness. Lacy’s sound is the most raucous of the three with his slurring streams clustered with a quick-cadenced ease. The rhythm section provides the torrid pace with Peter Washington and Willie Jones III keeping the exquisite time. Slide would be proud.

Steve Turre’s ballad “Blue and Brown” is homage to Lawrence Brown who was Duke Ellington’s first trombonist. A sweet Basie-like piano solo by Davis and a wonderfully buoyant bass solo by Washington are two features of this slow waltz. The three trombone voices meld together like three pats of butter in a hot pan in a display of magical harmony that leads to a nostalgic sounding pixie-plunger solo by Turre;  a subtle piece to be savored like the sip of a fine brandy.

Trombonist Frank Lacy’s “Settegast Strut” is a piece of music that lends itself perfectly to the powerful
sound of the three ‘bones in synchronous harmony. Lacy’s big, gutsy growl is on majestic display for three choruses, as he demonstrates his amazing control of this expressive instrument. He slides through a range of ascending notes that sends shivers down your spine and then bellows out some low notes that seem almost bottomless. Turre adds a couple choruses of his own that squeeze out some of his own ideas on the music. All the while Willie Jones III punctuates with his crashing cymbals at just the right times and Davis’s flowing piano crescendos smooth out the lines in between and at the coda.

Part of the fun of this album is listening to all the devices and styles these guys can produce from their bag of tricks. “Bird’s Bones” is Steve Davis’ composition dedicated to Charlie Parker.  This bop inspired song starts out with Davis on open horn, Lacy on a cup mute with its distinctively “tinny” sound and Turre on metal straight mute. Davis solos first with an open horn,Turre is up next with a distinctive handmade wooden mute that has a bit of a muffled sound. After a brief piano solo by Davis, Lacy plays with a squeaky sounding Harmon mute followed by a short bass solo by Washington and then a few choruses of Willie Jones soloing between breaks as the song ends.

Peter Washington’s galloping bass opens the scene on Turre’s  “Sunset” as the three trombones- one open, one with a plunger and one with a mute- play the opening line in a lazy, almost dreamy way.  But the song has a sauntering swing that inspires the playful spirit of these players. Lacy takes the first solo with an open horn that seems to awaken to the rhythm in an uplifting way. Turre uses his plunger to create a more playful swing with his screeches and slurs paving the way for a piano solo by Davis. Davis tickles the ivories with a spirited playful touch. Steve Davis plays a warm, bellowing solo with an open horn, letting some of his notes linger in the air like ripe figs on a tree, delicious. The trio use bucket mutes for the finale as they close languidly to the ostinato bass line.

On Turre’s “4 & 9”, a reference to the alternating time signatures 4/4 and 9/4 used in this song, we are treated to another trombone master and Blakey alumnus, Robin Eubanks. Eubanks is a master of odd meters and Turre’s tune is tailor made for this man’s specialty. Pianist Xavier Davis puts some funk into the tune using the Fender Rhodes and guest bassist Kenny Davis adds his own brand electric bad ass.
Turre navigates through the meter changes with accomplished aplomb on his open horn, then Eubanks takes it to another level. He bursts unto the scene with a solo that is both spirited and soulful  as he traverses the changes with a smoothness that belies their complexity.

“Fuller Beauty” is a modal ballad that is dedicated to trombonist Curtis Fuller who played with Turre in the Blakey band. This one is gorgeously expressive. Turre plays a heartfelt open solo that finds him at his most sensitive. The pianist Davis also finds a warm, sensitive side to his playing here, with Steve Davis and Frank Lacy playing harmonically rich supporting parts. Jones and Washington anchor this ballad with subtle surety.

Kevin Eubanks “Shorter Blu” is a dually dedicated to the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, another Blakey alumnus, and to Blakey  himself, whose Muslim nickname was Blu.  Here all four trombones act in concert on this unusual piece of music. After a rising piano solo by Davis, Eubanks opens with a, shifting, zigzag-like solo. Turre takes a turn with a Harmon muted solo and then Lacy takes his own gruff solo before the ensemble all enter in a free-spirited jam that colors the song to the coda.

The gutsiest song on the album is Turre’s “Julian’s Blues”. This low-down dirty blues is dedicated to trombonist Julian Priester, whose approach to harmony in such bands as Sun Ra’s Arkestra impressed Turre. The ensemble plays this blues with solidarity of soul. Solos start with Lacy laying down his raspiest solo, setting the tone for the down and dirty mood. Steve Davis plays a gentler, rounder solo that contrasts nicely with how Lacy left him. Pianist Davis plays with economy and still manages to make his point felt.  Turre comes in with a stone lined cup on his horn, creating a distant sound, that he trades off with bassist Peter Washington before the ensemble ends with Lacy having the last grimy word.

The finale is a Latin flavored Steve Davis song titled “Daylight” and like daylight it is a fitting uplifting ending to this wonderfully expressive album.  On this one the three bones and superb rhythm  section are joined by percussionist Pedro Martinez who adds to the sway with his congas and some conch shell playing by Turre.

For those who love trombone, a great vibe and good music Steve Turre’s  The Bones of Art  offers a feast of sounds and expressiveness that is second to none.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Steve Gadd sets the groove with "Gadditude"

The drummer Steve Gadd has been on my radar ever since I became aware of a super group formed back in the mid-seventies called Stuff. The band was formed by bassist Gordon Edwards and was made up of some of New York City's finest session players. The band included Edwards on bass, Richard Tee on keyboards, Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on guitars and at first Chris Parker on drums, but soon Steve Gadd became the mainstay drummer of the group. Stuff  had a soulful, funky sound that was driven by Gadd's propulsive in the pocket groove.Working with a who's who in popular music and jazz, from Carly Simon and Eric Clapton to Chick Corea and Jim Hall, Steve Gadd's work was ubiquitous throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties. It was in 1975 where Steve' distinctive drum and bugle style was heard on the intro to Paul Simon's mega-hit "Fifty ways to Leave Your Lover." My personal Steve Gadd piece da resistance came in 1977, on Steely Dan's fabulous Aja.  On this pop/jazz masterpiece, Gadd's inimitable syncopated drum work in concert with Wayne Shorter's soaring saxophone solo, especially in his explosive work at the coda, cemented his reputation as a drummer of extraordinary skill, inventiveness and unerring rhythmic drive.

On Gadd's latest release, unfortunately titled Gadditude ( Who thinks up these names?),  the drummer is joined by his band mates Larry Goldings on keyboards, Michael Landau on guitars, Walt Fowler on trumpet and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Individually these guys are superb musicians. Together they have toured as the back up band for James Taylor for several years and on this album their empathetic and exceptional cohesiveness is joyfully on display.

The opening track, Michael Landau's "Africa," is a wonderfully expressive vibe, featuring Landau's wavy guitar lines, Larry Goldings, modulating organ, Jimmy Johnson's walking bass line and Gadd's understated snare shuffle. Together they create a hypnotic, unmistakably hip groove that allows Walt Fowler to play a Miles-like circa Bitches Brew muted trumpet over the top. Very mesmerizing and expertly played

On Larry Goldings tune "Ask Me" Gadd uses his signature marching snare to pilot this dreamy, slow ballad.
Goldings switches from organ to the wispier sound of the Fender Rhodes for this expressive piece. Walt Fowler's uses the warm tone of his flugelhorn in this song that recalls some of Art Farmer's later work. Guitarist Landau has a penchant for interjecting beautifully lingering notes that bend and hang in the air like anguished cries.

The group takes to Keith Jarrett's "Country" like putting on a pair of old, familiar shoes. The 3/4 shuffle created by Gadd's brushes with Johnson's slender bass lines, and Golding's gospel-like Wurlitizer work gives the well known song a solemn  and reverential sound.  Walt Fowler's trumpet work is like a ray of sunshine streaming into the chapel windows on a Sunday morning, beautiful and uplifting. Landau's distinctive country treatment on guitar is full of feeling and soul.

I have always found keyboardist Larry Goldings to be a creative well spring. On his "Cavaliero" the staccato vamp is carried by Gadd's relentlessly cadenced snare and bass drum work while Goldings plays punctuatedorgan lines. It is Landau's Ventures-like guitar sound that dominates the song, with its twangy West Coast reverb in clever contrast to Goldings blues dominated B3 growl and Fowler's Herb Alpert-like trumpet treatment on the chorus that makes for great fun and a stirring arrangement.
The funky "Green Foam" is a classic organ trio based blues that is reminiscent of some Booker T & TheMGs or Junior Wells with a direct bow of the hat to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl." The tune shifts to a slow smoldering blues mid-song, with some gutsy soulful guitar work by Landau that is especially tasty.

Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Mountain" is given a sauntering groove by the understated Gadd, allowing Landau and Goldings beautiful interplay to shine through. Landau's guitar sound is so fluid and slinky, at times reminding me of Dire Straights Mark Knoffler here. Larry Goldings is a superb accompanist who knows the right sound to elicit from his myriad of keyboard options at any given time.

Landau's "Who Knows Blues" is another shuffle with a down home feel. Fowler uses the muted trumpet and Golding's pulses on the Hammond B3 with Gadd and Johnson providing the backbeat. Landau takes a slow, deliberate solo that drips with the sound of Gadd's old Stuff band mate Cornell Dupree. A funky Crescent City inspired groove.

On another Keith Jarrett tune "The Wind Up", the group lets loose and has some fun. The tune opens up full speed ahead with Fowler and Landau matching lines as Gadd, Johnson and Goldings create the groove.
Johnson's bulbous bass lines are big and round as the group takes flight. Landau's guitar solo is particularly infectious as he swirls his way through the viscous groove in liquid fashion. Fowler solos over the top in a bright and punctuated style. It is Gadd and Goldings that keep this vibe going with gusto. Goldings uses the B3 to beautiful effect playing soulfully within the rhythmic lines to perfection. Steve Gadd is at his most precocious as his pointillistic playing finishes the piece. The band is heard to laugh at the end of the piece like relieved riders after a particularly harrowing amusement park ride. These guys obviously  had a lot of fun making this music and it shows.

Radiohead's spacey "Scatterbrain" finishes this rewarding album in ethereal style. The sound created by the group floats as Walt Fowler's horn soars above the atmospheric groove.

This album grows on you each time you play it. Put it on your cd player or Ipod and simply sit back and enjoy. Steve Gadd's staid, subtle performance throughout is a testament to his ability to let the music speak for itself with a total lack of hubris.