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Mariel Bildsten Quintet: Backbone (Outside In)

A review of the trombonist's debut album as a leader

Mariel Bildsten Quintet: Backbone
The cover of Backbone by the Mariel Bildsten Quintet

Ever wonder why studio dates so rarely capture the casual vibe of a late-night hit? Perhaps it’s the pressure, with the clock ticking away, or maybe it’s the circumstances surrounding a manufactured meeting set against sterile scenery. There are simply too many potential factors to pinpoint the exact cause(s). The studio is the studio and the stage is the stage. But every so often you come across a recording that manages to blur those lines to good effect. 

The debut from Mariel Bildsten, a rising-star trombonist who’s already turned heads with her playing in Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, politically charged collective Brass Against, and broad-minded forró-funk outfit Nation Beat, really bucks the odds. And that success, while obviously linked to the musicians, likely has a lot to do with the setup too. Recorded in a single evening after a four-night stretch of shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in January of 2019, Backbone captures a band unburdened. It’s just another night with the music flowing, and that unostentatious aura makes this album a joy to encounter.

The program kicks off with Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” juxtaposing Stacy Dillard’s limber soprano saxophone against the leader’s solid yet supple trombone. Then Bildsten offers a nod to 1954’s A Star Is Born, singing through her horn over some soft-shoe swing and soloing over bassist Ben Wolfe’s sturdy lines on Harold Arlen’s “The Man That Got Away.” By the time the quintet saunters through the third track—Paul Dupont and Allan Stuart’s alluring tango “Rosita,” a number showcasing Dillard’s subtone tenor and Bildsten’s muted horn—there’s no doubt about highs in both quality and comfort level. Add to that a winning take on Kenny Dorham’s cool-bordered, hot-centered “Monaco,” a laidback low-end affair for ’bone and bass on “Mood Indigo,” and a Latin-leaning “The Lamp Is Low” closer, and you have about 30 minutes of pure magic. The only thing missing is more of the same.

Preview, buy or download Backbone on Amazon!

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.