Wycliffe Gordon is a trombone player who knows his instrument from the primordial playing of Kid Ory and Honore Dutrey through giants like Jack Teagarden and J.J. Johnson up to and including today's best like Steve Turre. This ability is nowhere better illustrated than on this new CD covering music as classic as "Limehouse Blues" and "I Can't Get Started" and as new as the originals composed for this late 2002 recording date.
As a jazz historian/antiquarian, I admit that my taste runs to the familiarity of the standard chestnuts that greet me like an old friend even when dressed up in the latest style, yet there are still contemporary composer/arranger/players such as Wycliffe Gordon whose modern masterpieces could well qualify as tomorrow's classic staples. "Dig This" and "Old Man Blooz" (which appears here in two takes) are prime examples of the best of 21st century jazz standards in the making.
Again, given my taste for the early giants of this music, it's no surprise that leader/trombonist Gordon and guitarist Peter Bernstein are familiar names. Maybe this also accounts for the fact that I find the Hammond B-3 organist Sam Yahel a fascinating revelation. While too many of the "jazz electric organ" players I hear today are leaning on the bassist and/or drummer for rhythmic impetus, Yahel makes proper use of the Hammond's pedal board to underlay the bass line. Other players, tenor sax man Seamus Blake and drummer Bell Stewart, while not as startling on first listening as Yahel, fulfill their function in the ensemble.
Certain to cause comment and interest is Gordon's unaccompanied trombone solo, "Blues Etude #2." Gordon, like Anthony Braxton before him and Johann Sebastian Bach before him
, has shown the power of an unaccompanied line supplying its own melody, harmony and rhythm.
Yet the track I'll keep returning to is Wycliffe Gordon's statement of "Limehouse Blues," which alternates between single and double time. In his distinctive arrangement of this hit tune of 1924 imported from the United Kingdom and defined in recordings by the Benny Goodman Sextet and by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, Gordon has given new life to a classic which now becomes part of the contemporary repertoire.
This review originally appeared in Criss Cross