The trombone in jazz has often taken a backseat to the more extroverted and visceral sounds of the saxophone and trumpet, occupying the position of an ignored stepchild, so to speak. The few trombonists that have attained historical status are almost exclusively from the bop era of jazz, leaving out a healthy number of swing and mainstream players. Currently, Conrad Herwig and Steve Davis are doing their part to continue the development of the trombone heritage, with Osteology also tipping a hat to the unforgettable duo of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. And like the K. and J.J. prototype, Davis and Herwig possess contrasting styles that make their union a real treat, Herwig's more melodic approach playing the Winding (coming out of Frank Rosolino, Lawrence Brown, and Vic Dickenson) to Davis's hard bop take on Johnson (with a lively dose of Curtis Fuller thrown in).
Never mind that Herwig's originals and arrangements of a few superior standards make gratifying use of the two-bone front line, this disc simply kicks ass from the first note to the last. These men are the top in their field and when they get together some serious business is likely to be the output. Pianist David Kikoski has never sounded better or more intense, with bassist James Genus and drummer "Tain" Watts kicking up enough dirt to instigate the next dust bowl. Just check the tempo on "Devil May Care," with Davis and Herwig not even flinching as they weave a complex tapestry of interrelated choruses. And just when you thought there'd be no way to revive "It Ain't Necessarily So?" Well, you'd be wrong, with Herwig and crew's catchy funk vamp married to a smart harmony line from the bones.
Once you've digested this disc via a few focused hearings, switch your attention to the contrasting styles of Herwig (heard on the right channel) and Davis (heard on the left). Although they both have chops to burn, Herwig may arguably be the more impressive in this area. His clarity and intonation at any speed is simply amazing, while his sound is based on such mainstream heroes as Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino. Sly quotes are also part and parcel for Herwig, with a nice extrapolation of Hank Mobley's "The Breakthrough" worked into his opening solo on "Syeeda's Song Flute." Davis is certainly no slouch, with a crisp attack and burnished tone that recalls Curtis Fuller's best work. In addition, his solos possess a logical and highly-melodic quality that make them extremely user-friendly.
If you've yet to catch the humor in the album's title, simply understand that "osteo" refers to bones (in medical terms) and "ology" means "the study of." Not only is it clever, but it also deftly summarizes the great thought and care that went into this project. Safe to say, this one comes highly recommended.
Syeeda's Song Flute, Kenny K., Devil May Care, First Born, Fire, It Ain't Necessarily So, You Don't Know What Love Is, Osteology (60:51)
Conrad Herwig- trombone, Steve Davis- trombone, David Kikoski- piano, James Genus- bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts- drums