For an album of trumpet and guitar duets, Slow possesses an extremely rich sound. Granted, some of the songs are fleshed out by overdubbed guitars and some lead and background vocals, but Michael Leonhart’s arrangements and choice of material give the album its sonic depth.
Leonhart has played trumpet in situations ranging from straightahead jazz to pop, including stints with Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau and recordings with James Brown, David Byrne and rappers A Tribe Called Quest. His two previous releases consisted of original jazz tunes with a pianoless quartet and an imaginary film soundtrack performed by a large ensemble. All of this is significant because it seems to have given Leonhart an acute sense of how melody and accompaniment should intersect.
Slow features 15 songs that, by virtue of their juxtaposition, cover a wide range. This is probably the first and last time a jazz take on a Black Sabbath song will appear in close proximity to the works of Ellington, Monk and Miles, at least in a serious context. Leonhart and his partner, guitarist Jon Herington, aren’t trying to be irreverent in their choices of material, however, and for the most part that comes through. Herington captures all the chordal nuances of Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie,” leaving Leonhart’s buttery tone to nail the melody. Leonhart’s gentle baritone voice on a country and western retelling of Ellington’s “Azure” succeeds as an approach, though the wolf whistles could have been kept to a minimum. Like a number of the tracks, “Flamenco Sketches” puts Herrington’s comping on equal focus with the melody, due to his sharp attack.
Leonhart contributes three originals; two strive to create gentle mood pieces with mixed results, and include vocals that function as texture. The third, “Umpf!,” sports a bluesy feeling without disrupting the album’s languid feel. His associate’s “Tanha” sports a minor-key melody with a Spanish flair that gives Leonhart plenty of long drawn-out tones.
Slow only falters on its most ambitious ventures. “Planet Caravan”-one of Black Sabbath’s gentle moments-doesn’t offer much in the way of melodic advancement in the first place, and the duo’s well-intentioned rendering sounds merely like a two-chord doodle. The closing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is even more puzzling: Herington adeptly picks the standard in one channel, while in the other, two people-one of them presumably Leonhart-have dinner and toast each other. It’s a unique reading, granted, but it doesn’t merit repeat listens.
Only two tracks on Slow clock in over six minutes, meaning Leonhart realized that an hour of material like this couldn’t stay in one place for too long. With just a few exceptions, the album sustains the momentum.Originally Published