The title tune on trombonist John Hines' In the Pocket
had me mulling over comparisons with—of course—the late trombone master J.J. Johnson. And I felt that where Mr. Johnson romanced the listener, charmed the ears with subtle sweet somethings, John Hines' approach was more like a sermon—an upbeat, life-affirming, straightforward exhortation. A fine, driving piece of mainstream jazz.
With tune two, the classic "I Could Write a Book," I knew something not just good, but really special was happening. Horn man Hugh Ragin joins the 'bone and rhythm section quartet here, slicing Hines' deep straight-ahead take on the melody with with a knife edge of muted trumpet cuts on a relaxed and fluid take on the song.
"My Secret Love," with a Latin groove to it, continues the mood; and then John Coltrane's "Central Park West" led me to suspect I had a disc in hand that might just qualify as a classic—as good as this mainstream thing gets. On this gorgeous song the three lead voices—Hines' trombone, Ragin's trumpet, and Michael Pagan's piano, in that order—perform, one after the other, magnificently, a transcendent display of inspired improvistational viruosity, each voice building on the impromptu statements predecessor; and I can't say enough about pianist Pagan's part. His buoyant, Count Basie-like accompaniment (swelling to eschew the Basie-esque reticence) behind Ragin's breathtaking trumpet solo lifts the music to a higher plane; and when he gets his spot, things go to a level I didn't suspect existed. And all of that is not to take away from Hines' opening statement that sings like a low register angel to get the process rolling.
"A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" invites vocalist Angela Holley into the mix, with her velvety deep timbre—a B flat clarinet crooning down in its low register—on a straight forward delivery of a not-done-often-enough classic that adds a dash of rich spice to the mix.
A wonderfully executed set, paced to perfection, with a vibrant trombone sound out front, a flexible rhythm section, a pianist whose crisp, bright sound counterpoints the leader's mellifuous low tones, and some knockout guest slots on trumpet/flugelhorn and vocal that slip right into the pocket. And they close with Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," loose and late night-sounding, nothing to lose or gain, just good music.
A top ten of the year disc, no ifs or maybes. In that better alternate universe where jazz dominates the music charts, In the Pocket would be all over the radio.
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Track Listing: In the Pocket, I Could Write a Book, Secret Love, Central Park West, Hard times, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, More Than a Friend, Kickin' Back, In a Sentimental Mood
Personnel: John Hines--trombone; Michael Pagan--pinao, organ; Rob Ward--drums; Mike Williams--bass; Angela Holley--vocals on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"; Hugh Ragin--trumpet/flugelhorn on "I Could Write a Book; "Central Park West; and "More Than a Friend