How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
While one never knows what trombonist/entrepreneur Michael Davis may be up to next, it’s a safe bet that whatever it is will be musically and aesthetically rewarding. It wasn’t too long ago that Davis persuaded more than fifty of the country’s foremost trumpeters, trombonists, tuba and French horn players to come together (sometimes in separate studios) to record the spectacular album Brass Nation, and convened eighteen of the New York City area’s most talented trombonists for another tour de force, Absolute Trombone. On Trumpets Eleven, Davis has brought back some of the headliners from Brass Nation and added a few more to help make up a series of quintets (plus one sextet and a duo) that are as smooth as satin and undeniably state-of-the-art (overdubbing is used to make some of the groups seem larger than they are). As usual, Davis, ever the impresario, composed and arranged the music and produced the various sessions for his Hip-Bone label.
As a trombonist Davis is quite good but perhaps a slide away from great, and clever enough not to upstage any of his guests. He takes his share of solos, each of which is solicitously well-designed, but usually after letting the trumpeters have their say, which is a sensible course of action considering that the visitors include such prodigiously talented artists as Eddie Henderson, Randy Brecker, Ryan Kisor, Bobby Shew, Scott Wendholt, Tom Harrell and Chuck Findley.
Everyone plays trumpet except Shew and Harrell, who use the flugelhorn on their respective features, “Zona” and “Cole Henry” (the only songs not written especially for this album). Others we’ve not yet mentioned are the New York Philharmonic’s Phil Smith (C trumpet) and crossover artist Chris Botti (“Blue Day”), Malcolm McNab (Eb trumpet on “Big City”) and Jim Hynes who duets with Davis on the brief but effective closing number, “Family Tree.”
Davis’ tunes, tailored to suit the personalities of his guests, are respectable and serve their purpose without drawing undue attention to themselves. The same can be said of the rhythm sections (there are basically two). There’s not much to choose between the piano/bass/drums crews of Alan Pasqua/Dave Carpenter/Will Kennedy or Phil Markowitz/Jay Anderson/Adam Nussbaum (who is replaced on “Brass Walk” and “San Jose” by Jeff Ballard), as each of them is able-bodied and flexible without being obtrusive. As for the soloists (including Davis, Markowitz and Pasqua), it is enough to assert that they do nothing to tarnish their well-earned reputations.
Aside from a handful of fades and a playing time of less than fifty minutes, there’s nothing about Trumpets Eleven that is less than laudatory. Everyone toes the mark and follows the script, enabling the bright and irrepressible bundle of energy known as Michael Davis to succeed again with a little help from his friends.
Track Listing: Permit Required; C to Z; Blue Day; Brass Walk; Zona; San Jose; Big City; Cole Henry; Schapa; Family Tree (49:13).
Personnel: Michael Davis, composer, arranger, trombone; Eddie Henderson, Randy Brecker, Phil Smith, Chris Botti, Ryan Kisor, Bobby Shew, Scott Wendholt, Malcolm McNabb, Tom Harrell, Chuck Findley, Jim Hynes, trumpet; Phil Markowitz (1, 3, 4, 6 8), Alan Pasqua (2, 5, 7, 9), piano; Jay Anderson (1, 3, 4, 6, 8), Dave Carpenter (2, 5, 7, 9), bass; Adam Nassau (1, 3, 8), Will Kennedy (2, 5, 7, 9), Jeff Ballard (4, 6), drums.