A live recording is always a great chance to experience some of the core principles of jazz. Improvisation and spontaneity arise when musicians feel free and comfortable with the tunes and arrangements. A collaborative effort between trombonist Ron Westray and trumpeter Thomas Heflin, Live from Austin was recorded in 2009 at the Elephant Room, one of the few jazz venues in the Texas capital, while both musicians were involved with the University of Texas.
This recording not only has that freshness of a live recording but also captures the atmosphere of that long rectangular basement that is the Elephant Room. Westray and Heflin match perfectly, blending their styles in a balanced yet searching way over bebop foundations. Westray, well-known for his work for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and a duo album with Wycliffe Gordon, Bone Structure (Atlantic, 1996), takes another step ahead while showing strong vocality and rich tone. Heflin proves to be a firmly grounded musician who combines lyricism and virtuosity, ultimately offering an intense rivalry with Westray and the rest of the band.
Live from Austin opens up with Westray's "Exile: Remember the Homeless." An inspiring, forceful statement, the tune shows the album's balance between arrangements and improvisation. Drummer David Sierra is particularly outstanding on this track, driving the foundations of its rising intensity, thus gaining prominence while spilling strength across the background. "Mind over Matter" changes the mood with its lyrical, singable intro, followed by one of Heflin's most inspiring solos. Playing his own composition, the trumpeter comes in confidently after the first break. Deep and blues-touched, Heflin shows technique and enough feeling to complete a flawless solo. "Inside Out" starts off with Westray shining alone as he effectively blurs the lines between speech and music. For a moment, his talkative trombone even gets shy and walks away, but soon comes back with a different twist in a sort of give-and-take play. Heflin follows with some fast fingering licks that confirm how they both interact on the different tunes of the session.
The classic unison bop intro of "One Hand Clap" announces a passionate straight-ahead jazz ending to the session. Elias Haslanger, who contributes two compositions ("Eternal and Absolute" and "One Hand Clap"), completes a blowing frontline with his great tenor sound. It is also interesting to note the change of the rhythm section. Drummers Adonis Rose and David Sierra, and bass players Neal Caine and Eric Revis prove their adaptability, while pianist Peter Stoltzman offers one last virtuosic solo before the theme comes back to close a very enjoyable record.
Exile: Remember the Homeless; Mind Over Matter; The Thing About Donald Brown; Interlude; Eternal and Absolute; Inside Out; One Hand Clap.
Ron Westray: trombone; Thomas Heflin: trumpet; Elias Haslanger: tenor sax (1, 3, 5, 7); Peter Stoltzman: piano; Eric Revis: bass (3-6); Neal Caine: bass (1, 2, 7); Adonis Rose: drums (3-6); David Sierra: drums (1, 2, 7).