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Rob McConnell: Thank You, Ted

The only way Rob McConnell knows how to play his valve trombone and write his arrangements is to saturate both with a sense of sardonic humor, a devil-may-care attitude that seems to say he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Truth is, no one is more meticulous about putting the right notes in the right places. His latest CD, Thank You, Ted (Justin Time), is filled with the precise notes, so carefully distributed among his Tentet, sounding like it’s nearly twice as large because the boss man knows how to make it sound big with his patented voicings and Gil Evans-type chordal clusters. His opener, “If I Were a Bell,” cuts right to the chase with some of the tightest writing on the session and with a control of dynamics seldom found in other bands. Alex Dean has to be singled out for his aggressive tenor solo. The chart ends, in typical McConnell fashion, with four unresolved chords, leaving you yearning for the other shoe to drop. The hip, concerted writing on “Like Someone in Love,” is held together by economic, Basielike fills from pianist Dave Restivo. Elsewhere the gaps are left to one of the best fillers in the business, drummer Terry Clarke. McConnell’s valve trombone is heard to best advantage on “Everything Happens to Me.” Toward the end of that chart, a long full-band quote from Basie’s “April in Paris” suddenly materializes; it’s like “Caravan” showing up in the middle of Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw.” No surprise then that McConnell would resuscitate a virtually unknown Vic Dickenson tune, “Constantly”-not to be found in the Great American Songbook but a pleasant cooker. This has to be the happiest, swingingest “big band” in North America.

Originally Published