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The State of the Trombone 2009: Steve Davis and Luis Bonilla

C. Michael Bailey By

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Jazz offers ample opportunity to hear diametrically opposed ideas and approaches coming from similar ensembles (and sometimes the same ensemble, as with saxophonist John Coltrane). Consider, on one side, the middle-of-the-road, mainstream, standards jazz made early on by trumpeter Miles Davis and the free jazz of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. The trombone has had players in both corners as different as Al Grey and Roswell Rudd, Jack Teagarden and Grachan Moncur. Here are two similarly dissimilar trombonists, Steve Davis and Luis Bonilla, each turning in a superb recording.

Steve Davis


Jazz Legacy Productions


Steve Davis is a keeper of the flame. His vehicles are time tested standards and a golden 'bone tone warm enough to heat the house at Christmas. Davis adds the support of pianist Hank Jones, drummer Joe Farnsworth and special guest, trumpeter Roy Hargrove to the mix for a completely enjoyable mainstream jazz recording. Think of a swinging set in the study drinking a single malt (a martini would be too sharp), reading the paper, and that begins to capture the disc's ambiance.

The standards are displayed in fine fashion. "Yardbird Suite" is slowed enough for comfort and a realization of what bebop is. "How Deep is the Ocean" is painted with light blues and greens; "It Could Happen to You" bounces at every step; Roy Hargrove adding his special touch with vibraphonist Steve Nelson. Hank Jones' "Minor Contention" and Davis' "T.H.E Blues" inject modernity into an otherwise updated sepia reading of the Great American Songbook.

John Lewis' "Django" and J.J. Johnson's "Lament" prove singular on the recording by, at once, stepping out of the disc's thematic mold and thereby increasing its artistic density. "Django" allows Jones ample room to prove his admiration for Lewis and Nelson's for Milt Jackson. Where "Django" focused on his support, "Lament" belonged solely to Davis, who spent a good deal of time listening to J.J. Johnson. Eloquence is certainly that.

Visit Steve Davis on the web.

Luis Bonilla

I Talking Now

Planet Arts


Well, so much for the mainstream with Steve Davis. Luis Bonilla's I Talking Now is an intelligent, in-your-face collections of originals that is anything but mainstream. Crisp post bop presented as tightly focused freedom characterizes Bonilla's efforts on the disc. Like Davis, Bonilla employs a conspicuous pianist in Arturo O'Farrill, whose angular inclinations mesh well with bassist Andy McKee and drummer John Riley.

Bonilla kicks things off with the title tune, a relentless look at where things might have gone had Coltrane not spun off into outer space. The presentation of the solo instruments against Riley's persistent drumming is stimulating, particularly Ivan Renta's thrilling opening tenor solo, which recalls Coltrane's duets with drummer Elvin Jones. Renta plays his Sonny Rollins thing on the lengthy "No Looking Back," buoyed by O'Farrill's percussive piano and McKee's demanding bass.

"Fifty Eight" sums up the recording as a progressively developed melting pot of Latin, African and American jazz influences. Bonilla and Renta play post-Bach counterpoint over the tight rhythm section of O'Farrill, McKee, and Riley, accomplishing a demanding and, in turn rewarding, composition. Luis Bonilla offers a great contrast to the traditionalism of Steve Davis. These are two very different visions of the trombone in jazz. Let us be glad.

Visit Luis Bonilla on the web.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Red; Yardbird Suite; How Deep is the Ocean; Minor Contention; T.H.E Blues; It Could Happen to You; My Ship; Have You Met Miss Jones; Django; Road Song; Peedlum; Lament; When the Saints Go Marching In.

Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Hank Jones: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth; Roy Hargrove: trumpet; Steve Nelson: vibraphone; John Lee: acoustic bass guitar.

I Talking Now

Tracks: I Talking Now; Uh, Uh, Uh...; No Looking Back; Closer Still; Fifty Eight; Triumph; Luminescence; Elis.

Personnel: Luis Bonilla: trombone; Ivan Renta: saxophones; Arturo O'Farrill; Andy McKee: bass; John Riley: Drums.

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