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The first time I heard Paul McKee he was sharing the stage with trombone master Carl Fontana — and, much to everyone’s surpise, more than holding his own in such fast company. Sparks flew that evening several years ago, as they often do on Gallery, McKee’s long–overdue debut as leader, wherein he is reunited with Fontana (on two selections) and abetted on others by such well–respected players as saxophonist Tim Ries and trumpeters Bobby Shew and Ron Stout. Although lesser known, the other members of the Chicago–based trombonist’s supporting cast (which varies from track to track) are among the finest Jazz musicians in the Midwest. McKee is a superior player with a velvety–smooth tone and awesome chops, qualities keenly delineated by fellow trombonist and Woody Herman band mate John Fedchock in his perceptive liner notes: “. . .Paul’s lines are intelligently organized and melodically smart, while also connecting to the listener on a deeper, emotional basis. Technically speaking, he’s in complete control of his instrument, and his unique harmonic sensibilities never fail to keep one’s head cocked and eyebrows raised.” On top of that, he’s a gifted composer/arranger who wrote three of the nine selections on Gallery (“No Cover,” “Skid Row,” “Little Gus”) and arranged all of them. Unlike some newer works that one simply endures while waiting for the standards, McKee’s compositions are substantive and charming, ranging far beyond the tedious head arrangements that too often bear the name “original.” The first, “No Cover,” is based on the chord changes of John Coltrane’s “Resolution”; the second, “Skid Row,” uses a tone row of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and, says McKee, is “a sort of 12–tone, 12–bar blues,” while the third, “Little Gus,” is built from melodic fragments that form a groove best described, he says, as “loose New Orleans second line.” Complementing them are five well–known standards (on two of which, “Alone Together” and an up-tempo reading of “We’ll Be Together Again,” McKee and Fontana weave their special magic with a rhythm section) and bandleader Claude Thornhill’s theme song, “Snowfall.” McKee goes it alone with rhythm on “I Remember You” and “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Shew and tenor Mark Tuttle enlarge the core group on “Skid Row” and “Out of This World,” while Stout and Ries do likewise on “No Cover,” “Snowfall” and “Little Gus.” A number of rhythm sections are used, and it’s difficult to impugn any of them. Everyone contributes, but it’s McKee on whom the spotlight shines most radiantly, and it’s his impressive playing and writing that carry the day. Easily recommended.
Track listing: No Cover; Skid Row; Snowfall; I Remember You; Alone Together; Out of This World; Little Gus; How Deep Is the Ocean; We’ll Be Together Again (64:33).
Paul McKee, trombone, arrangements; Carl Fontana, trombone; Bobby Shew, Ron Stout, trumpet, flugelhorn; Tim Ries, soprano, tenor saxophone, alto flute; Mark Tuttle, Louis Stockwell, tenor saxophone; Jerry DeMuzio, alto saxophone; Ron Perrillo, Mike Kocur, piano; Kelly Sill, Larry Kohut, bass; Jim Rupp, Bob Rummage, Joel Spencer, drums; Alejo Poveda, percussion.
Contact: Corridor Records, P.O. Box 47739, Chicago, IL 60647