It is without taking away anything from the founding fathers of this music to suggest that some of today's practitioners might be the most technically gifted lot to come along. Of course, they now have the entire rich history of jazz at their fingertips and slews of recordings for inspiration, yet there's no denying the talent at hand. Such is the case with 43-year-old trombonist Conrad Herwig. Hardly a Johnny Come Lately, Herwig has been on the scene for some 20 years playing in the bands of such legends as Buddy Rich and Eddie Palmieri, but has to be considered one of the most innovative players to come along since the days of J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller.
Herwig's fourth and most recent date for the Dutch Criss Cross label, Hieroglyphica is a no holds barred quartet set of all originals that finds everyone working at full throttle. Without other horns to get in the way, this is the best place to experience Herwig at his most incendiary. Starting with a low moan and then breaking into wild glissandos through the upper register, Herwig kicks off the title track with a dazzling display that then builds to a frenetic climax with drums wailing and the rest of the ensemble participating in the collective frenzy.
It's time for a quick cool down with the Latin-tinged 'The Orange Dove,' a breathy melody that is supported beautifully by pianist Bill Charlap's comping. And speaking of Charlap, for those of you only familiar with his demure and most recent trio dates, you'll be surprised at how much the pianist seems to step outside of the box here. In fact, some reckless abandon breaks forth on 'Island of the Day Before' as Herwig builds the tension before giving way to Charlap, who ushers in the calm before the storm and then hits with some heavy stuff of his own. And to get an idea of Herwig's range and the full complement of devices, look no further than a bluesy 'The Intruder.' Technically accomplished and still filled with communicative appeal, Hieroglyphica just may be Herwig's most brilliant recital to date.
A bit more reserved, the trombonist's duo recital with pianist Andy LaVerne, Shades of Light, doesn't quite catch the fire that the quartet session does, but there's still plenty to savor. An impressive display of flutter tonguing comes just at the conclusion of 'Three Flowers,' a McCoy Tyner line that has to be among his most striking. Two Chick Corea gems, 'Tones For Joan's Bones' and 'Crystal Silence' seem especially attractive in this duo setting and Herwig's trombone carries both melodies quite well. You can gather some insight as to influences too, with Herwig sagaciously working in a quote from Wayne Shorter's 'Witch hunt' during his solo on 'African Flower.'
Track Listing: Hieroglyphica: Hieroglyphica, The Orange Dove, Solar Circle, Quiet Mountain, Island of the Day Before, The Intruder, The Antipodes, The Eleventh Hour
Shades of Light: Three Flowers, Tones For Joan's Bones, Crystal Silence, Bessie's Blues, If You Never Come To Me, Shades of Light, Black Narcissus, Think On Me, African Flower, In Your Own Sweet Way
Personnel: Hieroglyphica: Conrad Herwig (trombone), Bill Charlap (piano), James Genus (bass), Gene Jackson (drums)
Shades of Light: Conrad Herwig (trombone), Andy LaVerne (piano)