06/30/02

Steve Turre Quintet at Blues Alley

Steve Turre demonstrated once again why he is one of the first call trombonists in the world in the second night of his two-night residency at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley. It wasn't revolutionary jazz, but Turre and his crew--tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, pianist George Cables, bassist Steve Kirby and drummer Victor Lewis--were as solid as ever.

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Steve Turre

The band started off with a shuffle blues, and as the formula goes for such a tune, solos were passed around the band, followed by a shout chorus and out head. Turre continued with "The Nearness of You," played straight up and down, although unique to this rendering of the ballad was a trading section with the drums, featuring the subtle brushwork of Lewis. Also of note was Turre's muted trombone work on the out head. "Puente of Soul," a Turre original dedicated to Latin percussion master Tito, was the first selection of the night off of the trombonist's latest album, TNT (which stands for, as Turre pointed out "not the dynamite, but Trombone N' Tenor"). Clearly influenced by the trademark Latin rhythms Puente popularized with his bands, this one ended with a driving solo from Lewis, who managed to get a timbalelike sound from his set, bringing to mind the spirit and high energy of Puente.

Having covered the blues, ballad and Latin genres, the band continued with Turre's arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy," on which he quite shamelessly played a number of J.J. Johnson licks, quoting 4 and 8 bar phrases at a time. Defending himself after the show, he remarked "You gotta pay homage to the masters. J.J did for the trombone what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone, and no one has played the horn like him since."

Rounding out the set was "Shorty," another Turre composition, also from the latest album. The bass and piano montuno in 3 was offset by the unison melody line in 4, creating a degree of tension that was released by the swing section in the bridge. Turre's shells, which had been lying dormant throughout the set, finally came out on this piece. While I have long thought of Turre's shell playing as mostly a gimmick, when he plays them live it becomes clear why he is passionate about them. Their timbre adds more depth and dimension to the band. His rhythmic, staccato lines evoke his trombone playing, and his 5-shell lineup, featuring differing sizes and pitches, allows for more harmonic contrast than one would expect. His glissandos and handwork on them are a feat to watch, and given the limited choices available, he accomplishes a lot, including call and response with himself on two different shells, and some Rahsaan Roland Kirk-esque two-shells-at-once harmony. While the set was lacking an uptempo burner, the high energy of "Shorty" more than made up for it.

The evening was chock-full of shout choruses and blues inflected lines, recalling some of the late-'50s/early-'60s Blue Note recordings. Cables presided over the keyboard throughout in an elderly-statesmen like manner, and Kirby was a solid presence all night, both in his solos and as a timekeeper. Jackson's harmonic language proved to be the most engaging thing about his playing, and while he didn't blow anyone away, all of his solos were well constructed and inspired. Turre has a friendly rapport with the audience, and proved to be a class act, even taking some time out after the set to talk shop with my trombonist companion.

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