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Hard–hitting is the word that springs immediately to mind when listening to trombonist Bill McFarland’s Chicago Horns. Although McFarland and his companions aren’t mired in a time warp, their highly rhythmic, no–nonsense approach often recalls the dynamic hard–bopping groups led by Art Blakey, Horace Silver and others during the swinging ’50s, ’60s and beyond. They are carrying on the tradition, and that is good. What the Horns don’t have — and this is not meant to disparage their competence — is the kind of legendary orators who developed their voices in those bands before establishing their Hall of Fame credentials. Dorham, Mobley, Fuller, Brown, Timmons, Byrd, Watkins, Morgan, McLean, Golson, Bryant, Griffin, Shorter, Walton, Hubbard, Jarrett, Marsalis, Hampton, Farmer — no need to list them all; I’m sure you get the idea. But if McFarland, Ford, Anderson and the others are a step removed from that august company, it’s only a short one, and their well–measured improvisations are consistently bright and engaging, as are the songs they’ve chosen to perform on Fire Horns.. That one was written by pianist Sam Soda, as was “Maho’s Dream,” two (nearly identical) versions of which are included. Anderson has a flair for crisp writing too, as he shows on “Hip Hop Swing” (better than its title), the soulful “Mood Swings” and jaunty “Peace Is the Key.” Webster Lewis penned “Mild Wind,” while “Harold the Great” and “Mar–Di Gras” are credited to “O. McFarland,” who one assumes must be related to the leader. Even though billed as the Horns, McFarland’s sextet would be far less productive were it not for the support of an assertive rhythm section, and Soda, Staron and Vitek are no shrinking violets, furnishing more than enough fuel to keep the engine humming on all cylinders. These aren’t the Messengers, but the message they deliver is no less persuasive in its own way. If you appreciate bop–based Jazz that really swings, check ’em out.
Track listing: Harold the Great; Hip Hop Swing; Maho’s Dream I; Mild Wind; Mood Swings; Peace Is the Key; Mar–Di Gras; Fire Horns; Maho’s Dream II (62:08).
Bill McFarland, trombone; Hank Ford, saxophone; Kenny Anderson, trumpet; Osamu Sam Soda, keyboards, programming; Mike Staron, bass; Rick Vitek, percussion.