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Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, Ohio
December 14, 2002

For several years now, a number of Cleveland-based arts organizations ( Musical Arts Association, Cleveland Museum of Art, Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, and Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland ) have pulled together their efforts to present a yearly concert series with venues including the main auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Severence Hall. As part of the 2002-2003 edition of Jazz on the Circle, renowned trombonist Slide Hampton took the stage with the aptly titled World of Trombones, an ensemble that included no less than a dozen trombonists, not counting Hampton himself and special guest Bill Watrous.

Since the mid ‘60s, when he recorded a wonderful set of albums with his octet for Atlantic Records, Hampton has stood above the crowd in terms of his talents as both a composer/arranger and trombonist. This current group then allows him the opportunity not only to play, but also to tailor his charts to a particularly unique ensemble sound that is out of the ordinary. Of course, the idea of a dozen trombones on stage at first might seem an uneasy proposition. But when one realizes the immense range of colors and pitch available via the slide trombone and its bass counterpart, it’s not too far of a stretch to conceive of a sonority that comes close to a modern big band. And that’s exactly the tack that Hampton takes with this assemblage, voicing across various numbers of bones and painting bold harmonies with a palette of sound that is surprisingly rich.

Some of Hampton’s mentors served as inspiration for the various selections of the evening, beginning with the opening take on J.J. Johnson’s “Lament.” A lengthy suite in homage to Louis Armstrong allowed for some enchanting dialogue between Hampton and Wycliff Gordon and the ballad tempo that accompanied “April in Paris” found our leading man supplementing the melody with beautifully executed upper partials. John Coltrane was then brought to mind with a crackling run through of “Moment’s Notice,” complete with a trio of bone solos from Slide, Steve Davis, and Isaac Smith.

A renowned trombonist and accomplished technician in his own right, guest artist Bill Watrous joined the band for two numbers starting with the Strayhorn chestnut “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” Then a brisk “Cherokee” led to a wholesome competition for the two lead bones as they both ate up the changes. In addition, throughout the evening solo opportunities were in abundance for every one, but especially satisfying were statements from Steve Davis, pianist Renee Rosnes, and drummer Roger Humphries.

As a final opportunity for all hands on deck to get their chance to shine, the closing “Blues For Eric” offered solos to each member of the rhythm section and then to all the bones with a chorus for each in succession. Watrous came back out and Hampton allowed for a few chuckles when he threw in quotes from “Ding-Dong the Witch Is Dead” and the seasonally appropriate “Jingle Bells.” All-in-all one couldn’t have asked for a more varied and accomplished program. So who says you can’t take a dozen trombones or more and make great music?

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