CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Steve Turre: The Very Thought of You (Smoke Sessions)

Review of a ballad-oriented album by the trombonist, with guest appearances by George Coleman and Russell Malone

Cover of Steve Turre album The Very Thought of You
Cover of Steve Turre album The Very Thought of You

Steve Turre is often commended for his ability to blow breakneck runs on the trombone with the intricacy and agility of a trumpeter or alto saxophonist. Often overlooked is the subtlety and warmth he musters up when he’s not in a hurry, and it’s that side that’s the focus of most of this ballads-dominated set, recorded live in the studio with an impeccable core cast consisting of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Willie Jones III.

Turre alternates here between standards and originals, incorporating a string octet (four violins, two violas, two cellos, arranged and conducted by Marty Sheller) on four tracks. Those, beginning with the album-opening Ray Noble-authored title cut, are about as sweet as can be; amid the swells of orchestration, Turre keeps his solo to the basics, avoiding the temptation to veer too far from the melody. “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which features both the string section and guitarist Russell Malone (one of four tracks on which he guests), might have turned schmaltzy in lesser hands, but Turre and Malone know instinctively how and where—and just how much—to assert themselves, and when to hold back. Malone also shines on the Harry Warren/Al Dubin-composed standard “September in the Rain,” putting serious swing into the midtempo reading and giving the leader a chance to rev things up a bit.

George Coleman is the other special guest, dropping his tenor saxophone into two tunes, including the other non-ballad highlight, Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” No strings on this one, no guitar, just a hell of a quintet firing it up. As tender and sensual as Turre’s balladeering may be on the bulk of the album—and for more of that, the “Danny Boy” finale is one beautiful tearjerker—the Bird blowout arrives at exactly the moment in The Very Thought of You when something with a bit more velocity is just what’s called for.