On an August day and in midst and darkness of a global pandemic, five New England jazz musicians under the leadership of trombonist Rick Stepton entered a Massachusetts studio and let it all fly. The result? The Placebone Effect, a fine collection of workhorse standards along with a Stepton original, performed with verve, style, taste and sly good humor.
Stepton has long been a recognized figure in the jazz world both as a fine, swinging trombone player (the Buddy Rich Big Band, et al) and also as an extraordinary bio subject (Off-the Cuff-Trombone, ZZ Productions, 2016DVD and Transcendent Trombone: Jazz SurvivorThe Rick Stepton Story by Frank McGowan, self-published, 2017). Here he steps out to lead a swinging rhythm crew to offer up seven familiar jazz standards and a fine orphaned Stepton original. The array of tunes fits the trombonist's highly-stylized approach and his wry humor perfectly. For example, Horace Silver's "The Preacher" kicks things off with a little taste of "Come Sunday" before steamrolling into the gospel-flavored classic. That fun-romp, balls-to-the-wall style is also on display in the later "Bye Bye Blackbird" and the hardly-ever heard oldie, "Ballin' the Jack."
Stepton is somewhat of an anachronistic style and sound. It's less on the vibrato ("Elegy for Slide Trombone," and the trombonists' necessity, J.J. Johnson's "Lament"), and more on fire with a glissandoed energy ("It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," complete with a surprise "musical Easter Egg" ending). Stepton is also a fine ballad interpreter as heard on "Round Midnight" and elsewhere.
The rhythm section is featured sans Stepton on a lush version of "How High the Moon." The trio supports exceptionally well and swings hard on all of the up-tempo selections. Pianist Joey Mazzarella offers tasty solos and bassist Bob Simonelli knows exactly how to tastefully thrust things into very deep swing. Mark Holovnia's set work is excellent.
All slick virus references aside, The Placebone Effect is a fun and satisfying romp. It has very much of a "live" vibe that some other locked-down recordings have unfortunately missed. It's "comfort ear food" for trying times.
The Preacher, Elegy for Slide Trombone, Bye, Bye, Blackbird, 'Round Midnight, Ballin' the
Jack, How High the Moon, Lament, It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.