People of all ages and persuasions can’t help but be charmed by Big Sackbut on first listen. Like sumo wrestlers in action, this trombone-trio-plus-tuba immediately compels with its striking blend of largesse, brute strength and surprising grace and dexterity. The trick is to sustain the allure beyond the gimmicky trappings, and Joe Fiedler, whose credits range from Cecil Taylor to Sesame Street, is well suited to be the maestro behind the ongoing magic.
Fiedler formed Big Sackbut as a larger-toned kindred spirit to the creative variation of the World Saxophone Quartet, further informed by the playfully renegade spirit of his trombone hero, Ray Anderson. His fellow trombonists, Ryan Keberle and Luis Bonilla, are themselves first-call sidemen with well-regarded discs under their own names. Their contrasting styles—Keberle sweet and cerebral, Bonilla more antic and careening—combined with Fiedler’s clarion tone and generally straight-ahead phrasing provide the leader with a wide palette of moods, tempos and harmonies for his compositions and arrangements. And, as on the group’s eponymous debut, the herculean basslines churned up by Marcus Rojas on tuba are crucial to the enterprise and make him the band’s MVP.
Sackbut Stomp brings in Steven Bernstein for three of the nine tracks on slide trumpet, and the ringleader of Sex Mob and many other projects fits right in. Fiedler sets him up with a custom-made vehicle, a droll, strolling cover of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Other highlights include Fiedler’s sepia-toned homage to his hometown, “Pittsburgh Morning,” a beautifully restrained rendition of the Chano Pozo romp “Tin Tin Deo” and a cover of Bennie Wallace’s “Eight Page Bible” that opens plenty of space for each of the trombonists to ripple and strut. The test that Sackbut Stomp passes is not that it delights, but that its pleasures endure.