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Steve Turre: One4J

With the exception of strict-constructionist tailgaters, nearly everyone playing jazz on the trombone is dependent on J.J. Johnson’s example. Johnson introduced the trombone to bebop, and vice versa. To describe in the most elemental terms the difference he made, he translated Charlie Parker into trombonese. The traditionalists never forgave him for it. They said the instrument wasn’t intended to be that fast, that incisive. Perhaps they thought Johnson was an isolated phenomenon. Then along came Frank Rosolino-who was, if anything, even faster-Bennie Green, Kai Winding and a platoon of bop trombonists more or less in Johnson’s image. Throughout his career, Johnson kept them all alert to the reality that aspiring to his technique was one thing, achieving his artistry quite another.

The subtitle of Turre’s album is Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson. In the company of five fellow trombonists and a rhythm section headed by pianist Stephen Scott, he honors the patriarch’s achievements. Peter Washington is the bassist, and Johnson’s former sideman Victor Lewis is the drummer. The group combinations range from two to six trombones. On two pieces, Turre is the only horn. On his “Enigma” duet with guest artist Rene Rosnes, Johnson’s pianist of choice in his final years, Turre displays his understanding of Johnson’s essence. He does so with only slight departures from the bittersweet melody, and then plays a cadenza that makes clear his own individuality. Turre melds his bop conception and his love of exotic rhythms in a quartet performance on Johnson’s “Minor Blues.” It includes an African percussionist whose lyrically percussive name is Abou M’Boup.

Inevitably, the two-trombone pieces echo Johnson’s partnership with Kai Winding, uncannily so with Turre and Steve Davis on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Davis and Turre are closest to Johnson’s solo conception and technical mastery, but Robin Eubanks and Andre Hayward are clearly in the same league of proficiency. Bass trombonist Douglas Purviance and New York Philharmonic principal trombonist Joe Alessi add to the rich textures of the ensembles, which have arrangements crafted by Eubanks, Slide Hampton and Earl McIntyre. Many of Johnson’s best compositions are here, including “Kelo,” “Wee Dot” and “El Camino Real.” It is a trombone showcase, but pianist Scott’s solos, dancing with vitality, are among the CD’s best.

Originally Published