Although the trombone hasn't always been the most popular of jazz instruments, a varied and variegated stable of talented jazz trombonists can be found among the lineage of historical jazz artists. From the Dixie strains of Jack Teagarden to the forward-thinking innovations of Roswell Rudd, the trombone has been adaptable to a wide variety of stylistic presentations. Of the current generation of players, you can count on less than one hand the number of trombonists who can approach a wide variety of genres with equal facility in the manner that Wycliffe Gordon has over the past five years or so.
The latest of five total discs recorded for Criss Cross, In the Cross harkens back to the righteous strains of Gordon's first session for the label, 2000's The Gospel Truth. But while that disc took on its color primarily through a program of traditional favorites, In the Cross boasts the addition of massed voices, namely the Garden City Gospel Choir of Georgia. "I'm Glad, complete with repeated refrains and a groundswell of B3 organ, is the best place to start when trying to get a handle on this set. Interestingly enough, these basic structures offer fodder for a string of fine solos from trumpeter Marcus Printup and saxophonist Victor Goines.
Although dirge-like in its opening choruses, "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me later develops into a jazz shuffle in the Jazz Messengers tradition. By contrast, "Holy, Holy, Holy and "Near the Cross speak with a gentler voice, and Gordon's trombone takes on a vocal character filled with emotion and a deep feeling for the spiritual nature of the material. More secular in nature, "Wade in the Water and "When the Saints Go Marching In are so familiar that they almost defy the efforts of just about anyone who attempts renewal, but Gordon and company craft their own versions with a personal stamp.
Presented in two different takes, Gordon's own "All Day Long, Sang My Song, Going Home is a real keeper, with a scat and piano unison line punctuated by a repeated "all day long from the choir. Inspired by Duke Ellington's sacred music, Gordon's own efforts suggest that he's well on his way to becoming one of our most multi-faceted and talented jazz musicians transcending tradition in his quest for an individualistic sound and voice. Not your typical Criss Cross date, In the Cross is a revelation in more ways than one.
All Day Long, Sang My Song, Going Home II, I'm Glad, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, Holy, Holy, Holy, Wade in the Water, Near the Cross, Help Me Somebody, Glory Hallelujah, All Day Long, Sang My Song, Going Home I, When the Saints Go Marching In, I Came to Jesus
Wycliffe Gordon (trombone & vocals), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Victor Goines (saxophones & clarinet), Eric Reed (piano), Damien Sneed (organ), Reginald Veal (bass), Alvin Atkinson, Jr. (drums)