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Audrey Ochoa: Frankenhorn (Chronograph)

A review of the trombonist's third album

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Audrey Ochoa: Frankenhorn
The cover of Frankenhorn by Audrey Ochoa

However much the trombone palette has grown elsewhere, in jazz it’s as if we never left the Tommy Dorsey era, in which the lead tone is bright, sweet, and high. Yes, there have been some notable gutbucket players since then—Roswell Rudd stands out in that regard—but there hasn’t been much middle ground left for players with a more distinctive timbre.

Perhaps that’s why Canadian trombonist Audrey Ochoa seems so singular. Although she’s certainly capable of the kind of upper-register sweetness that earns a big-band first chair—indeed, an overdubbed (alto trombone?) part on “Bunganga” could easily be mistaken for trumpet—in general, she has the gruff power of an old-school New Orleans trombonist. There’s heft and grit to her dark, breathy tone, lending a pleasantly jagged edge to her 16th-note runs.

Stylistically, though, Frankenhorn feels oddly stitched together. A couple tunes find her accompanied by string quartet and piano, and another couple have been remixed by a DJ called Battery Poacher into a pleasant electro-haze. There’s a straight-up postbop number, a percussion-spiked Latin tune, and a bluesy duet with bassist Mike Lent that lets her show off her incredible command of the plunger mute.

It’s all very solid, and the writing—mostly by Ochoa—is sly and tuneful, but too often there are moments so intriguing that it’s hard not to wish she had pursued them further instead of rushing off to the next experiment. The brass chorale she overdubbed herself into on “Postcards” left me pining for more of her ensemble writing, while the lazy groove and slippery lines of “The Huggy Dance (Battery Poacher Remix)” are tasty enough to suggest that she could have a second career in chill music. Here’s hoping her next album pursues one avenue more fully, instead of taking the Whitman’s Sampler approach again.


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J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.