Like bassist Percy Heath, who finally released his first album at the age of 80, trombonist Tom McIntosh has waited for his own record. Something of a musician's musician, over the past 45 years McIntosh has spent a lot of time playing with and contributing compositions to a wide range of artists, including James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Flanagan and Benny Golson. After a two-decade stint in Hollywood writing for film and television, he returned to the east coast in the '90s to become a renowned educator at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music.
But it took the prodding of others to convince McIntosh that the time had come to create a recording that truly represents where he's been and where he's going. The result, With Malice Toward None , spotlights an artist who, like fellow septuagenarian Jim Hall, is constantly evolving rather than resting on his considerable laurels, mixing some of his well-known pieces with newer compositions.
The extended new piece "Ruptures in the Rapture" is a perfect example of how McIntosh creates music that looks back and forward at the same time. Based around "My Blue Heaven," this stunning tour-de-force swings with all the commitment of someone who has experienced the evolution of jazz first-hand, yet demonstrates a more modern approach to harmony than would be expected from one of his generation. "The Cup Bearers," arguably McIntosh's most well-known piece, having been recorded by artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell and Kenny Burrell, is an up-tempo swinger with saxophonists Benny Golson and Frank Perowsky holding down the front line alongside trumpeter Jimmy Owens. It also features generation-busting solos by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, who seems to be popping up everywhere these days, and guitarist Bill Washer, who may not be a largely-known entity but, with a style that blends the economy of Jim Hall with a hint of Kenny Burrell, really ought to be.
The bossa inflection of "The MVP" gives Golson a chance to stretch out in his characteristically relaxed fashion, with Kenny Barron contributing a solo that is the definition of construction and thematic development, while the tender ballad "Minor Consolation," featuring a lush flute solo from James Moody and sensitive classical guitar accompaniment by Washer, again demonstrates the breadth of McIntosh's compositional touch.
There are elements of gospel on the title track and an attention to longer form on "Balanced Scales Equal Justice." And while they're not McIntosh-penned, the two bonus tracks, Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" and the Gershwin/Kern standard "Long Ago and Far Away," give the rhythm section a chance to stretch out, the latter featuring a particularly evocative arco solo from bassist Richard Davis.
With Malice Toward None took 45 years to realize. Word has it that McIntosh is already working on his next record, which is good news; hopefully all this activity late in life will bring attention to a name that musicians have known about for decades as a pinnacle of tasteful swing and lyrical intelligence.
Personnel: Kenny Baron (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Benny Golson (saxophone), Stefon Harris (vibraphone), Roger Kellaway (piano), Tom McIntosh (trombone), James Moody (saxophone), Jimmy Owens (trumpet), Frank Perowsky (saxophone, clarinet), Ben Perowsky (drums), Helen Sung (piano), Bill Washer (guitar), Buster Williams (bass)