Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?
Ian McDougall with String Orchestra
The Very Thought of You
Ten Mile Music Productions
Ian McDougall, who has long been one of Canada's premier jazz trombonists, one who spent years enhancing Rob McConnell's peerless Boss Brass and more recently led his own big band way out west in Victoria, BC, had a notion to abandon temporarily the hustle and bustle of bop and post-bop jazz by producing an all-ballad album for trombone and strings, which is precisely what he has done with Everything Happens to Me, a fond look back at some notable evergreens from the Great American Songbook circa 1926-1961.
There are no brass or reeds here, only strings, rhythm and McDougall's burnished trombone brightening eight charts by Boss Brass alum Rick Wilkins and half a dozen more by McDougall himself. All of the songs, from the earliest ("Someone to Watch Over Me") to the most recent ("Moon River") should be familiar to anyone with even a passing awareness of popular music. There is almost no improvisation, as McDougall abides close to the melody throughout, embellishing the strings with his lyrical manifestos. The package is aimed explicitly toward those who are in the mood for resplendent music for listening or dancing. As such, it works unconditionally.
McDougall says he has wanted to record an album of ballads for more than a decade, adding in the liner notes that "for those of you with hair the same color as mine (white!), I have a feeling that this music will bring back fond memories." That's true, and there aren't many trombonists who could play the music with more warmth and elegance than McDougall.
In Smaller Packages . . .
Like Madonna and Cher in the world of pop music, only one person comes to mind when the name Melba! surfaces in jazz. That would be composer / arranger / trombonist Melba Liston whose varied career spanned more than four decades and included memorable unions with Gerald Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and, most decisively, the pianist Randy Weston, with whom she recorded such iconic albums as Uhuru Afrika and African Sunrise. Liston (and Weston) made a lasting impression on a young would-be saxophonist named Geof Bradfield who recalls that "their music transcended craft; it felt like an adventure into unknown territory, even after a dozen hearings."
Bradfield never lost his admiration for Liston, and now, several decades onward, he has written a six-movement suite in her honor, commissioned by Chamber Music America and recorded by Bradfield's Chicago-based septet with vocalist Maggie Burrell added on the last number, "Let Me Not Lose My Dream," based on a text by the Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. After opening with "Kansas City Child," a salute to Liston's home town, the suite moves to "Central Avenue" to depict the vibrant jazz scene in 1940s Los Angeles, renews Liston's kinship with "Dizzy Gillespie" and "Randy Weston," appraises her time as an arranger for Stax and Motown Records and in Jamaica writing and teaching for film and musicians on the reggae scene with "Detroit / Kingston," and applauds her triumphant return to the States ("Homecoming") to introduce her all-female big band at the Kansas City Jazz Festival in 1979. Sandwiched between "Weston" and "Detroit / Kingston" is Bradfield's three-minute "Solo Saxophone Introduction," about which he offers no commentary.