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01/03/14

Roswell Rudd
Trombone for Lovers
Sunnyside

Trombonist Roswell Rudd’s timbral and emotional range is as diverse as ever, and his gnarled imprecations keep pop ballads such as “Unchained Melody” from getting grandiose and novelty-tinged offerings like “Tennessee Waltz” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” from getting too cute. On Ellington’s “Come Sunday” he melds Saturday-night signifying with Sunday-morning reverence; the interplay between his trombone and Steven Bernstein’s slide trumpet on Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” set to drummer Aaron Comess’ rollicking second-line beat, recalls Armstrong’s own blend of high-art sophistication and gutbucket ebullience. (Rudd and Bernstein hook up again on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” in a delightful invocation of Ray Charles and Betty Carter.) Vocalist Fay Victor sounds appropriately gospel-tinged and bluesy on “Trouble in Mind” (a blend accentuated by John Medeski’s Hammond B-3 shadings), while “Green Onions” effectively captures both the original’s deep-soul funkiness and, in the tumultuous group-improvisation climax, the trad-jazz/swing/R&B/bebop/outcat continuum that Rudd’s work has exemplified through the years.

“Funky Little Sweet Thing—Slow Dance for Fast Times,” co-written by Rudd and his longtime collaborator Verna Gillis, is an eros-charged slow dance, heated further by vocalist Heather Masse’s boudoir mewl and Rudd’s deep-toned come-ons. Joe Hill, a four-part suite based on the well-known folk tribute to the martyred labor leader, features the NYC Labor Chorus buttressed by some cool-swinging uptown soul-jazz from Medeski and Rudd, as well as a rapped interlude from Reggie Bennett. The earnest proletarian realism of its theme (and lyrics) may seem anachronistic, but it’s nonetheless thought-provoking and inspiring—so much so that one hardly notices that by this time Rudd has departed entirely from his stated purpose (a set of “standards”) in favor of an entirely different, but no less relevant, message.

Originally published in December 2013
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