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December 2003

Wycliffe Gordon
The Joyride
Nagel-Heyer

The Joyride takes on the old-school tendencies of many neosoul albums by locking itself more to a revisionist movement than boldly extending tradition. Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) overtones loom all over the proceeding, which isn't surprising considering that Wycliffe Gordon was one of the LCJO's most prized members before he left a few years ago. His band is full of LCJO-ers as well, such as drummer Herlin Riley, saxophonist Victor Goines, bassist Rodney Whitaker and pianist Farid Barron. And even though Gordon penned all the compositions, sometimes it's difficult to not think of this album as just another extension of the LCJO aesthetic, especially on the swaggering "Well Well Well (Walkin' the Blues)," which unfortunately becomes tedious thanks to the contrived vocal, call-and-response banter between Gordon and his bandmates.

While there is always a hint of nostalgia surrounding Jazz at Lincoln Center, there's always a superlative degree of musicianship in the Orchestra. As for trombonists, Gordon is easily one of the best of his generation. He hones an assured, soulful tone and crafts supple, luxurious passages that never slag. He also knows how to explore the expressive vocalizations inherent in the trombone, as evident on the sunny "Blues Impromptus," where he alternates, effectively, between uproarious cackles and mellifluous lyricism. On the elegant "Wishing Well," which also features splendid soprano work from Goines, Gordon's balladic trombone is utterly seductive, while on the joyous "Let's Call This" he summons the blues with heartfelt conviction. Gordon also displays infallible command on tuba on the highly overdubbed "Just Going On."

There's superb playing throughout The Joyride, even during some of its cornier moments, but sometimes you just wish that Gordon would venture farther away than Alice Tully Hall.

Originally published in December 2003
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