One 4 J - Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson
by Mark E. Gallo
Review date: September 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
J.J. Johnson was arguably the most important of the bebop trombonists, just as Steve Turre is unquestionably one of the most influential of the past quarter century. So it comes as no surprise that this is an exceptional project. Joined on the nearly all-Johnson program (the exceptions being Harold Mabern's tribute "Mr. Johnson," Turre's title piece and a Cole Porter's classic), by a coterie of exceptional trombonists in Joe Alessi, Steve Davis, Robin Eubanks, Andre Hayward and Douglas Purviance - propelled and supported by pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Victor Lewis -- Turre reaches for and invariably attains great heights on this gem. The horn players all bring impressive resumes to the project. Eubanks has played with master musicians McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra, among others. Steve Davis has worked with Jackie McLean, Hayward with Dave Holland and Roy Hargrove. Purviance has worked with everyone from Michel Camilo to the Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra, as well as with J.J. Johnson. You'll find him on the new Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones disc, "Spirit of the Horn," also on Telarc. Mr. Alessi is no less than the principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic. Assembling these heavyweight players on one powerful date is a jazz lover's treat of the first order.
Turre's arrangement on the opening and aptly titled "Overdrive" is a joyful ode to the maestro. Trading licks with Robin Eubanks, it is at once liltingly melodic and driving. "Wee Dot," one of Johnson's finest compositions (and sometimes co-credited to Charlie Parker) and closely related to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, is one of the highlights on the set. It is interesting to note that Turre, Davis and Eubanks put in time with the Messengers in the course of their careers. There are moments throughout the disc that will remind listeners of the JJ & Kai recordings that Johnson cut with Kai Winding in the 1960s, particularly on duet pieces. One of JJ & Kai's most popular tunes, "What Is This Thing Called Love?" is included here and magnificently performed by Turre and Davis. "Lament," featuring Slide Hampton's arrangement for four trombones, is beautifully played by Alessi, Davis, Hayward and Purviance, with solos from Turre and Eubanks. Alessi's open horn work on "El Camino Real" is the very essence of virtuosity and on the closing "Minor Blues" pianist Scott plays a deceptively stark solo over which African percussionist Abou M'Boup, and the rhythm team, working out of different time signatures, set a busy stage for Turre's melodic and simple refrain. Steve Turre's last recording was one of my picks for top 10 of the year. This is unquestionably in the same category. Spellbinding, hypnotic and tons of fun.
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