Bob McChesney: No Laughing Matter: McChesney Plays Steve Allen (2002)

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Bob McChesney: No Laughing Matter: McChesney Plays Steve Allen
The -Ahem- shagbutt or sacbut was the 15th century forerunner of what we now know as the Wind-powered, Slide-activated, Embouchure-modulated Pitch Approximator... i.e., the Slide Trombone.

Many were the young men who, disregarding the sage and heartfelt entreaties of parents ("You'll be poor'") and clergy ("Eternal damnation'"), acquired first shagbutts, then trombones, anyway. They spent as much as an entire week of their young lives woodshedding- some would say, "frittering away precious time"- the B Flat-down-to-E slur and back. And forth. Push. And pull. Long on longing but short of arm, most sacbutists quickly foreswore their ambitions and swapped their used trombones for new trumpets. Within the month, they were- to a lad- rich and famous and they had all the chicks.

The remaining trombonists, having been both disinherited and banished from their homes and houses of worship, practiced daily for 20 years thereby achieving mastery over their axes. Today, most of them are poor-but-honest artisans content to cue the lady doing Gypsy or Funny Girl as to which entrance note she should aspire. There are, however, a few trombonists who find themselves ensconced in that exclusive pavilion whose lintel bears the names Fontana, Rosolino, Watrous, Stout, and McChesney. Collectively, they are known as The Monsters.

Steve Allen's biographers have yet to adjudicate his prowess with saber and foil, but that omission notwithstanding, we may confidently assert that he is as close to being a true Renaissance Man as has anyone in this country since Theodore Roosevelt. Possessed of a blinding intellect, a keen ear, and an unerring pen, this prolific Man For All Seasons has established himself, in the classic sense, as a Philosopher-Poet. Therefore, it's High-by-God-time, we say, that he and McChesney finally discovered one another.

The Monster Meets The Philosopher-Poet; The Bob McChesney Quartet Plays Steve Allen

"Meet Me Where They Play The Blues"
WARNING: Strap your speakers securely to the wall before playing this track! The Staff and Management of Summit Records cannot be held responsible for' etceteras.

"MMWTPTB" starts out with a Teagarden-esque reading of a sweet and simple 32-bar Blues line delivered as Himself might have played it in the '30s, after which, McMonster -er- McChesney and pianist Matt Harris burn through a series of technically demanding choruses anchored to Allen's changes. The final 32 swing lightly back to the opening style.

"Chittlins"
Chitterlings, or chit'lins, are stewed pig bowels that have been battered and fried. (Hint: If you order them, specify that you'd prefer not to have the End Cut.)

McChesney, Henry, and Harris rip through much of this scorcher in unison. Although we've heard it as a swinger, a la Matt Harris' solo, McChesney and three-armed drummer Dick Weller serve it up as a barely sub-sonic flight through Chops Heaven.

"Steve's Blues"
An AABA minor blues that, like time spent in an old bathrobe and an older pair of slippers, allows one to snuggle into a warm, comfy groove and let his imagination ramble the road less traveled. Our take on this piece is that they put "Steve's Blues" out there and simply let it evolve. They didn't aggressively dig this one out as much as they patiently surrendered to what was already in there.

"Cutie Face"
A ballad that, when he'd finished it, you know that Allen sat back and smiled with contentment. Bob McChesney's rhapsodic reading of the head is a lovely prelude to a delicate and dazzling filigree of sound. Matt Harris follows with a straight ahead line leading to Trey Henry's nimble bass.

"This Is Where We Came In"
Allen and McChesney nail the mood, the feeling, the very air of that moment when, perhaps with a taste in hand, one may smile to one's self that he'd done all that needed to be done that day. Matt Harris, however, reaches into his "It's Four O'clock in the morning and I'm maintaining and there's no one in the joint except for the boss and Old Sadder-But-Wiser down to the end of the bar and she's startin' to look good to me and has she heard what I've been playing to her about longing and loneliness for the last forty-five-damn minutes?" bag. And he breaks your heart. Harris' treatment is bona fide "This Is Where We Came In," too.

"Playing The Field"
Melodious and swinging easy, McChesney decorously reminds us why he is and that he is one of the best jazz trombonists in the world. In this capstone to a series of solid, brilliant offerings, the players infuse Steve Allen's chart with intensity and joy. Indeed, the cadre that McChesney and Allen assembled for this gig will, we predict, become happily familiar to jazz fans in the years ahead.

Bob McChesney is a disciplined, restrained player who brings impeccable taste and metered energy to the process. He's got the tools and a surplus of chops in his bag, yet one is never left with the little niggle that he's trotting out the "licks du jour" simply because he can. This supremely gifted and, indeed, gentle musician is as technically proficient and musically inventive as anyone on the scene. We commend to you, with confidence, The Bob McChesney Quartet Plays Steve Allen.

Track Listing: Meet Me Where They Play The Blues Time Road Rage Pretty People Chittlins Steve's Blues Cutie Face Sultry Samba This Is Where We Came In Playing The Field

Personnel: Bob McChesney, trombone Matt Harris, piano Trey Henry, bass Dick Wheeler, drums

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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