Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon warrants that the last be stated first: he is the most soulful and technically proficient trombone player composing, performing, and educating today. Period.
As Gordon closes in on twenty years as a performing jazz musician, he never ceases to challenge the listener with something new. Cone's Coup is a perfect case in point. Gordon amiably throws down the gauntlet, daring the listener to find something not accessible and fresh. Gordon's original composition "Shhh!!! (the Band is Trying to Play)" shows off his omnipotent command of the plunger-muted trombone, as well as engaging his singing ability. Concerning the former, if Mozart perfected Haydn's string quartet, then Gordon perfected Ray Nance's talking trombone. Concerning the latter, Gordon sings with the spirit, tradition and molasses-slow Southern diction of Jack Teagarden, without falling into mere imitation. The style is old jazz, on the riverboat to St. Louis before stopping in Chicago.
"Yhat Doo Dhat Ditt" and "Sweet Spot" are blues pieces widely featuring the fine saxophonist Stacy Dillard, who plays with the crushed porkpie approach of Lester Young, wearing Coleman Hawkins' vibrato coat. Gordon shows himself completely in command of the blues on both pieces. The members of his piano trio, all well known to the trombonist, swing with a confident ease. "Blues for Alice's Freight Train," a Charlie Parker/Tommy Flanagan mash up, is fresh bebop. Gordon deftly joined Parker's "Blues..." with Flanagan's "Freight Train"; after a brief head with saxophonist Dillard, the two play a chorus, overlaying the two melodies. The result is a crisp bop counterpoint that illuminates Gordon's facility. The mash up provides a vehicle for burning solos by Gordon and Dillard, as well as pianist Johnny O'Neal and bassist Reginald Veal. Dillard and Gordon indulge in another bit of such counterpoint on the Gordon original breaks, where the two have a solo duel.
The ballads are well-paced and sumptuous, in particular "Stars Fell on Alabama," where Gordon's breathy tone is at its most controlled, creamy and smooth. "Blooze Hymn" recalls his superb collaboration with pianist Eric Reed on We. The disc's highlight comes next with the most progressive piece, John Coltrane's blues, "Mr. P.C." Beal's rumbling bass introduces the perfectly conceived interpretation, breaking into a fast 4/4 followed by the familiar head and a fiery solo from the leader as a bass/drums/'bone trio. Once Gordon finishes, saxophonist Dillard and drummer Herlin Riley recreate the John Coltrane/Elvin Jones axis, and Riley has a chance to show his wares.
Cone's Coup, an exceptional recording by any measure, will find its way to my best-of-the-year list. Let's hope for much more of this music.
Personnel: Wycliffe Gordon: vocals, trombone; Stacy Dillard: saxophone; Johnny O'Neal: piano; Reginald
Veal: bass; Herlin Riley: drums.