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Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven, Vancouver, 1978

Considering how many standout moments punctuate this meeting of trombone icons, three in particular sum up most eloquently everything you’d want to know about Rosolino and Fontana. They all involve engaging in intimate, swinging, contrapuntal conversations without any “comments” from the rhythm players. These moments occur on “Just Friends,” Miles’ “All Blues,” and the neglected Dizzy Gillespie tune “Ow.” Each one follows an accumulation of ensemble and solo activity before heading for the out chorus. The trombonists apparently felt the need to explore the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of certain up tunes without the restrictions that even the most sensitive rhythm sections can impose. So they luxuriated in the total freedom, as witness the number of tracks (six), and the total time (nearly 80 minutes).

Furthermore, why not allow those who have the most to say the opportunity to stretch out? And musically, Rosolino and Fontana had much to say to each other in August 1978, not that they could have foreseen the significance of that time frame. (Just three months later, Rosolino took his own life at age 52.) Fortunately the gig they called “Trombone Heaven” was recorded live, and recorded well, by Jack Stafford, showing how effectively a Vancouver, B.C., rhythm section (pianist Elmer Gill, bassist Torban Oxbol, drummer George Ursan) could support the ‘bone players. You can easily distinguish between the trombonists: Fontana has a smoother tone; Rosolino takes more risks, often playing what may seem outrageous licks. Their duets reveal a certain ESP: They listen and anticipate. When one itches, the other scratches. Rosolino’s legendary sense of humor often shows up in his solos; check out his pickup notes for “Laura.” Fontana excelled at filling gaps (hear him fill his own on “Stardust”), and his subtle humor occasionally surfaced: for example, interpolating “C.C. Rider” at the beginning of “All Blues.”

Originally Published