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The trombone, with its uniquely fluid glissandos, has been an integral part of jazz from the beginning. Although not as commonly seen in contemporary ensembles as, for instance, the trumpet, there are several artists who have mastered its use in modern settings. Below are four intriguing and diverse releases by trombonists.
The innovative trio 1032K’s The Law of Vibration (self-released) is a dynamic and engaging album that highlights the individual musicians’ singular talents as well as their cohesive camaraderie. Named after the Planck temperature, at which all matter ceases to exist, the band consists of bassist Kevin Ray, trombonist Frank Lacy and drummer Andrew Drury. Lacy transforms “All the While … Forgiveness” from a languid melancholic tune to a bright and cinematic one with smooth elegance. While Ray switches deftly between pizzicato and con-arco on the delightfully dissonant “Yankee No-How,” the piece also features Drury’s exhilarating beats and a guest appearance by the late trombonist Roswell Rudd, who trades fiery phrases with Lacy. Each member of the group is an accomplished improviser in his own right. Together they create stimulating music that is simultaneously adventurous and accessible.
Thematically and stylistically similar to The Law of Vibration, versatile trombonist Peter McEachern’s provocative Bone Code (Clean Feed) bears a dedication to Rudd. McEachern teams up with his frequent collaborators, bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin, for 14 brief, intelligent and moving tracks that are like modernistic prose poems. From the primal spirituality of Alice Coltrane’s “Gospel Trane,” with the leader’s wistful vamps riding his bandmates’ earthy rhythms, to the contemplative “Kups,” the music crackles with spontaneity. Pavone extemporizes with erudite intensity on the opening bars of “Lizards.” Soon Sarin’s angular drumming and McEachern’s reverberating tones join in for a fluid three-way conversation spiced with a touch of dissonance. The similarly funky “D & A” swaggers to Sarin’s thunderous beats, Pavone’s loosely swinging cadence and McEachern’s lyrical and muscular horn. Inspired equally by the blues and the avant-garde, Bone Code is a vibrant work and an appropriate tribute to Rudd.
Although not exactly an homage, bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton’s Bonegasm (Sunnyside) is reminiscent of trombonist and arranger Melba Liston’s sole release, Melba Liston and Her Bones (1959). Wharton’s effervescent album captivates as it ranges between the intimate and the orchestral with plenty of whimsy. From her tenure with big bands, Wharton has acquired keen leadership skills. On “Other Angles,” she coaxes a quasi-symphonic performance out of her septet as she trades lines with the other four trombones. In contrast, on the melancholic “North Rampart,” the horns follow Wharton in warm, undulating refrains. Wharton solos on the classic “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” with humorous eloquence and she sings with double entendre the bluesy “Big Long Slidin’ Thing.” Bonegasm is a charming recording that makes listening to a bunch of low notes immensely enjoyable.
Moving on from a mid-size group to a larger ensemble, the focus shifts to trombonist and bandleader Mariel Austin’s bold self-released debut, Runner in the Rain. Austin leads her Rock-Jazz Orchestra through four intricate originals and one by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. To the latter, the nocturnesque “Night Dreamer,” Austin adds vibraphonist Andria Nicodemou’s resonant shimmering sound to hauntingly dramatic effect. The cover also features saxophonist Noah Preminger’s expressive and elegant tenor. In addition to being an accomplished composer and arranger, Austin wields the trombone with agility and grace on the funky “One-Way Journey Home” and showcases her rich voice on the elegiac title song. Austin pulls no punches on her first outing as a leader, making Runner in the Rain an imaginative and captivating work.-Hrayr Attarian
Featured photo by John Abbott.