Trumpeter Farnell Newton’s Back to Earth is … a little odd. Not in its sound, which is straight-ahead, swinging hard bop (with some funkier grooves thrown in). But why would a small-group leader employ an unwieldy but powerful frontline instrument like the trombone, only to let it outside the ensemble passages only three times throughout 11 tracks?
Instead, Newton uses Kyle Molitor like a bass: He’s there to underline the themes, and gets tossed a few thank-you bones. (Incidentally, the actual bassist, Dylan Sundstrom, takes no solos.) Clearly this album is meant to highlight Newton, and to good ends. He’s a fine trumpeter, a descendant of Freddie Hubbard but less aggressive, more horizontal. As if to make that very point, he covers Hubbard’s arrangement of his own “Arietis.” Where Hubbard might have furiously built stacks of notes, Newton thoughtfully builds blocks of melody. He’s more introspective still on the clave tune “El Gaucho,” playing lip trills and limber figures with sweetness and sentiment.