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Bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton’s second release with Bonegasm — a four-trombone frontline with rhythm section — proves that her thoughtfully conceived concept, as its title avers, is no novelty. Nor is the idea of female jazz instrumentalists venturing beyond the piano bench, as they constitute a kinetic force among various “best of” jazz polls with growing frequency.
A trombone ensemble may be the most appreciable of homogenous groups because of the instrument’s unobtrusively round sonic properties. Although decibel-wise it’s capable of being the loudest acoustic instrument, no other blends better in multiples, especially when performing tastefully arranged music covering a broad range of dynamics.
Well written music commissioned from a talented pool of composers is indeed the fulcrum of this 10-song set, with every song allowing ample room for improvisation by trombonists Wharton, John Fedchock (her husband), Nate Maryland and Alan Ferber; pianist Michael Eckroth; bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Don Peretz.
Not a Novelty opens mucho vigoroso with Eckroth’s “BonGasmo.” Following a bass trombone-acoustic bass unison line, Eckroth lays down a pianistic salsa variation expounded upon by intricate rhythmic trombone passages. Immediately, Bonegasm takes the high road with an approach that’s as individual as it is difficult. And instead of using the basic American songbook 32-bar song form, each chart is composed and arranged with a complexity that demands the utmost in cliché-less improvising from these talented players.
Spanish-tinged in a more subtle way, “Face Value,” a Remy LeBoeuf original, showcases the trombone ensemble in block-chord chorale form. Beautifully textured harmonies offer a welcomed dose of tranquility, with solo spots ably handled by trombonists Wharton and Ferber.
It’s hard to tell whether the entire band or vocalist Kurt Elling is having more fun on Darcy James Argue’s bawdy arrangement of grunge band Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried To Live.” Either way, the enjoyment is contagious throughout Bonegasm’s consistently musical second chapter. — James Rozzi