On Gallery, which was recorded nearly a dozen years ago but has just now been released, the impressive trombonist Paul McKee, then based in Chicago, uses groups of various shapes and sizes to advance his musical agenda, which consists of straight-ahead versions of five standards, bandleader Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall, and three of his own engaging compositions. Among the sidemen are one of McKee's heroes, the late great trombonist Carl Fontana, and the renowned trumpeter Bobby Shew, each of whom appears on two (separate) numbers.
The program is well-designed and tasteful; McKee fits snugly into every context and blows about as well as any contemporary trombonist you'd care to name. His colleagues are no less admirable: saxophonists Tim Ries and Mark Tuttle, trumpeter Ron Stout and pianist Ron Perrillo challenge Fontana and Shew for solo honors, while bassists Kelly Sill or Larry Kohut and drummers Jim Rupp, Bob Rummage or Joel Spencer anchor the stalwart rhythm sections. Even so, special mention must be made of the McKee-Fontana duets on "Alone Together and an up-tempo reading of "We'll Be Together Again, which are precious and beyond compareand can never be repeated. Shew, for his part, is typically lucid and lyrical on Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "Out of This World and McKee's bluesy "Skid Row.
The album opens with a pair of McKee's bright originals, "No Cover and "Skid Row, and closes with McKee and Fontana skirmishing vigorously on "Together Again" (the solo order isn't given, so it's up to the listener to unravel). McKee also wrote the playful "Little Gus, on which he is featured with Stout and Ries. Completing the program are Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You and Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean, the last an understated tour de force for McKee's facile trombone.
Even though McKee is his own man, it's clear that he has listened closely to Fontana, Frank Rosolino and Kai Winding, among others, as much of what we know as modern post bop trombone sprang from those sources. As for his talent, anyone who can persuade John Fedchock to write the liner notes for his debut album obviously has no weakness in that area. Fedchock is a perceptive analyst, and when he says McKee's lines "are intelligently organized and melodically smart, while also connecting to the listener on a deeper, more emotional level, you can take it to the bank.
Even though it was slow getting here, Gallery is better late than never. McKee is a superb composer, arranger and player, and has produced an album that is commendable in every way.
No Cover; Skid Row; Snowfall; I Remember You; Alone Together; Out of This World; Little Gus; How Deep Is the Ocean; We
Paul McKee: leader, arranger, trombone; Bobby Shew (2,6), Ron Stout (1,3,7): trumpet,
flugelhorn; Tim Ries: tenor, soprano sax, alto flute (1,3,7); Jerry DiMuzio: alto sax (6); Mark
Tuttle (2,6), Louis Stockwell (3): tenor sax; Carl Fontana: trombone (5,9); Ron Perrillo
(1-4,6-8), Mike Kocur (5, 9): piano; Kelly Sill (1,3-5,7-9), Larry Kohut (2,6): bass; Jim Rupp
(1,3,7), Bob Rummage (2,4,6,8), Joel Spencer (5,9): drums; Alejo Poveda: percussion (6).
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