Lest anyone think that solo trombone is modern generic innovation, know that unaccompanied music has been written for the instrument since the 1600s. However, the form has arguably reached its creative apex in the hands of modern, usually European, practitioners like Vinko Globokar, Albert Mangelsdorff and Paul Rutherford. The wide tonal and textural range of the instrument makes it a perfect candidate for solo investigation.
At the end of last year, Universal released the complete works of Albert Mangelsdorff from MPS (Most Perfect Sound) Records, in celebration of what would have been his 80th year. Part of this campaign collects all three of his solo recordings for the label on two discs: 1972's Trombirds, 1976's Tromboneliness and 1982's Solo. Though he is inaccurately credited as the creator of trombone multiphonics, this extended technique abounds on the three sessions. But Mangelsdorff was also wrongly relegated to the world of the avant-garde. His early traditional forays informed the rest of his life's work and what becomes immediately apparent is that Mangelsdorff was using the solo form as a melodic, rather than sensory, vehicle. Unlike, say, Rutherford's concurrent work, some of the pieces on these three albums, perky ditties like "Trombirds," "Do Your Own Thing" or "Responsory," could be played with a band, Mangelsdorff's approach best equated with early ragtime piano. On other more abstruse tracks, extended technique is still in the service of specific motific development. And it should be stressed that the graceful ease with which Mangelsdorff plays these pieces belies how challenging they are technically.
Another German, Conny Bauer, also has a long history releasing solo trombone albums, with four from 1980-91 and a more recent one from 2002. Der Gelbe Klang (The Yellow Sound) is a 2007 recording that features this Bauer brother (Johannes is also a trombonist who has yet to record solo) on both trombone and electronics. The solo material was played continuously, with electronic flourishes and additional Bauers layered above and below in varied arrangements. As such, it is satisfying both as a recital and a post-production endeavor. Like Mangelsdorff, Bauer works with a strong melodic foundation, even when improvising, so many of these pieces are simply beautiful. The digital supplements, usually introduced after a solo exposition of a theme, fill out these pieces with appealing section work and harmonic expansion. Though his own player, and also a remarkable technician in his own right, this album is the heir to the earlier Mangelsdorff works, at least in intent.
Jen Baker and Samuel Blaser, forward-thinking 30-something musicians, are keeping the tradition of "posaune solo" established by the likes of Mangelsdorff and Bauer going with new albums, both initial recorded forays into the discipline.
Baker's disc, Blue Dreams, is short and to the point, with 13 tracks of manageable length (less than a minute to a shade over five) totaling about 40 minutes. The West Coast-based Baker, who has worked with kindred spirits like Joëlle Léandre and Alvin Curran, improvised all but one of the tracks contained therein, what she refers to as "lyrical vibrations". Interestingly, she claims as her inspiration Tuvan throatsinging and Gregorian chant, a new way to think about what multiphonic playing is trying to accomplish. As such, these pieces are more ethereal, quite different from the tuneful explorations of Mangelsdorff and Bauer without veering too far in the Rutherford direction, structural sense being retained, particularly in the longer pieces. Blue Dreams manages to be both serene and disconcerting at the same time, Baker's expert multiphonic technique almost extraterrestrial at times.
Blaser, a native Swiss who splits his time between New York and Berlin, follows up his excellent debut quartet recording 7th Heaven with a live document recorded for Swiss Radio. Solo Bone is the direct heir to Mangelsdorff's work in conception and aesthetic. Even if one didn't read the liner notes that make the connection clear (Blaser studied the German's work extensively), it would be apparent from the first two tracks, "La Vache" and "Solo Bone". In fact Blaser's version of Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is based on an earlier Mangelsdorff interpretation and the original "Solo Bone" was inspired by Mangelsdorff's "Bonn" from the aforementioned Tromboneliness. But like bass clarinetists escaping Dolphy's shadow, Blaser's solo effort is far more than a Mangelsdorff tribute. The technique is there as is the emphasis on tonal melodic improvisation, but it was up to Blaser to make something of it, and in a live setting no less. Solo Bone is an eminently listenable album that shows much promise if, like his forbearers, he decides to explore the genre further.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Blues Of A Cellar Lark; Trombirds; Yellow Hammer; Introducing Marc Suetterlyn; Espontaneo; Sing A Simple Song For Change; Do Your Own Thing; Tromboneliness; Creole Love Call; Bonn; Questions To Come; Marc Suetterlyn's Boogie; Für Peter; Brief Inventions; Sit And Think; Responsory; Für G.K.; Föhnhammer; Nexus; Der alte Dreiviertel; Lost And Found; Rooty Toot; Brief Impressions Of Brighton; What Did The Bird Say?; Bone Blues; J.C. Was Here; Give Me Some Skin.
Personnel: Albert Mangelsdorff: trombone.
Der Gelbe Klang
Tracks: Aus der tiefe; Das fest; Osterfeuer; Damals; Traurige stimme; 5 x 3 und 3 x 5; Undendlich; Volkstanz; Zu hause.
Personnel: Conny Bauer: trombone, electronics
Tracks: Floor Fuzzy; the Whilte-Blue Room; Crunchy Angel Biscuit; Illuminosity; Diplet; Going Up, chairs optional; Connection Made; Neptunian Love Song; Episode 2; 17 Unpredictably Disappears; Episode 3; Ascension; Pip Squeak.
Personnel: Jen Baker: trombone
Tracks: La Vache; Solo Bone; Lonely Blues; Mood Indigo; Noho 1; Solitude; Warsaw; Finally Alone.
Personnel: Samuel Blaser: trombone.