Wycliffe Gordon: United Soul Experience

Humor, warmth and vocal simulation are the essential elements of Wycliffe Gordon, and it takes three recent albums to show his breadth. The first, We (Nagel-Heyer), is a duo with pianist Eric Reed. Gordon is totally exposed, but he gets backing from Reed that is orchestral or intimate when needed. They are always on the same page, whether it’s from a fake book or the Good Book, which brings us to a surprising highlight: “The Lord’s Prayer,” with touches of gospel in the comping. This is not a religious album, per se; two additional high points are the soulful treatment of Ellington’s “Paris Blues” and the tender wah-wah wailing of “Embraceable You.” More good humor and warmth is on United Soul Experience (Criss Cross), with a more modern Gordon fronting a standard bop quintet and coaxing an ideal unison timbre with tenorist Seamus Blake. Gordon’s best solo effort can be heard on Blake’s “Periwinkle.” The final Gordon contribution comes as half of a two-trombone front line with John Allred, Head to Head (Arbors). This may be the start of the most beautiful friendship since J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Their phrasing is so similar, it’s difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. That’s reinforced by an overdubbing tour de force, the ancient “The Curse of an Aching Heart,” scored for four trombones, with Allred and Gordon each taking two parts. It becomes an understandably precise, very crisp ‘bone section.