Trombonist Vincent Gardner, an alumnus of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, makes an impressive debut as a leader on Elbow Room, a balanced mix of standards and challenging originals. Joining him in his quintet are saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Greg Williams and drummer Quincy Davis.
The band gets off to a light-footed start on the Dixieland-inflected "Doomzoom. Gardner stretches out on his crisp solo and Blanding's tenor passage is gritty without being grating. "Snake Charmin' is something of a long distance bop conversation between Gardner and Blanding's soprano sax, anchored expertly by the rhythm section. Gardner's soulful touch on "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry blends with Davis' gentle brushstrokes and Williams' plucked solo to underscore the song's melancholy theme.
The splendid "Can You Read My Mind? begins with a Mighty Mouse fanfare, then jumps right into Gardner and Blanding engaging in a dynamic, Latin-tinged trombone/soprano dialogue. The group's clever reading of Monk's "Four and One is equally spirited, with excellent soloing all around. One would expect blues and sadness on a tune entitled "Blubber, but Blanding sprints out of the box exuberantly, Gardner follows with arguably his best playing of the date, and Goldberg is absolute quicksilver, with Davis finally getting some real light on the drums. And the band's slick interpretation of Coltrane's "Liberia, particularly with two horns, gives the song an added dimension.
Gardner plays with maturity and confidence, and his supporting members are excellent, but the standout here is Aaron Goldberg, whose solid comping and sometimes dazzling solos enhance the disc. Goldberg plays ascending notes to open "Relaxin' at Camarillo instead of the standard descending intro; and on "Liberia he cleverly frames his stylistic homage to McCoy Tyner within his own keyboard idiom. These inspired elements give Elbow Room added depth, resulting in a top-flight maiden voyage for Gardner.
Track Listing: Doomzoom; Snake Charmin'; I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry; Can You Read My Mind?; Four and One; Blubber; W.M. III; Relaxin' at Camarillo; Liberia.
Personnel: Vincent Gardner: trombone;
Walter Blanding: tenor & soprano saxophones;
Aaron Goldberg: piano;
Greg Williams: bass;
Quincy Davis: drums.