Trombonucopia: Trombone for Two/Jay and Kai; The Trombones, Inc.; Trombone Heaven, Vancouver 1978; SteepleChase Jam Session, Vol. 23


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JJ Johnson/Kai Winding
Trombone for Two/Jay and Kai

Bob Brookmeyer/Jimmy Cleveland/Frank Rosolino
The Trombones, Inc.
Warner Bros-Lone Hill

Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana
Trombone Heaven, Vancouver, 1978

Various Artists
Jam Session, Vol. 23

Jazz had some incredibly popular figures in the later '50s, but one of the biggest surprises of that period was the popularity of Jay & Kai, a quintet led by trombonists JJ Johnson and Kai Winding. Unlike the two-tenor sax co-led quintets that were their closest instrumental template, Jay & Kai was not a group built on high-testosterone, head-to-head competition, but instead on cooperation. Although Johnson was one of the pioneers of bebop trombone, Jay & Kai's model was the Swing Era big band, with modernist touches.

Trombone for Two — which combines the highly successful Columbia LP of that title recorded in 1955 with ten tracks recorded a year later and eventually released on Jay and Kai, a swan song for the quintet that also included a track each from the co-leaders new bands — is full of big band strategies like preludes, stop-time passages, shout choruses and riffs, as well as harmonized and contrasting ensemble horn sections. It's tightly arranged music (the two trombonists shared the arranging chores) full of dazzling, tricky passages negotiated with aplomb by the principles and it displays the sonic and tonal versatility of the two-trombone format, both in the contrasting solo styles as well as by employing a panoply of mutes. Wonderful listening, but with hardly any tracks exceeding much more than four minutes, the desire to hear these two masters stretch out is palpable.

That the late '50s was a boom time for jazz trombone is exemplified by the project that produced The Trombones, Inc., originally a Columbia LP that received a rare five-star review in Downbeat in 1959. It was the template for later trombone-dominant large ensembles like Slide Hampton's World of Trombones and Steve Turre's Shell Choir, turning trombones into multi-section orchestras mimicking the roles of brass and reeds in big bands. Five tracks come from an East Coast ensemble of nine or ten trombones plus rhythm, with arrangements from JJ Johnson, who does not play. Six tracks emanate from West Coast ensembles of the same size, with arrangements from Marty Paich or Warren Barker. Among the East Coast solo stars are Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak, Bob Brookmeyer, Eddie Bert, Melba Liston and the Bennys: Powell and Green. Prominent soloists on West Coast tracks are Frank Rosolino, Dick Nash, Murray McEachern, Milt Bernhart, Henry Coker and others. But the gorgeously orchestral writing is as much a star as the soloists.

Two trombonists who were prominent on the West Coast and Las Vegas in the '50s-60s are captured at a jazz club gig in Canada on Trombone Heaven Vancouver, 1978. Here we get two trombonists in the Jay & Kai quintet model really stretching out and blowing. And since each one had a distinctive approach to intonation and phrasing — Rosolino distinctly tonguing each note, Fontana achieving incredible speed through a technique dubbed "doodle-tonguing — the soloing never becomes boring or repetitive. The real treat here though is the interplay between the two trombonists. There are long passages on "Well, You Needn't and "Ow where they play in tandem, chasing each other in intricate rounds and a wonderful two-horn improvisation, sans any rhythm section, on "All Blues .

SteepleChase Jam Session Vol. 23 carries on the tradition of the solely-trombones-and-rhythm group pioneered by Jay & Kai, but featuring three trombonists: Conrad Herwig, Wycliffe Gordon and Vincent Gardner with pianist Andy Laverne, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Billy Drummond. Not strictly a jam session in format, the tracks feature some neat if fairly rudimentary arrangements, with one trombone playing off the other two, either in lead voice with background passages/riffs or, as on Lee Morgan's blues "Kin Folks , one horn wailing obligatos over the two carrying the melody.

If anything, jazz trombone has become more expressive and tonally/timbrally impressionistic since the '50s as players like Gordon have embraced the history of the instrument, from gutbucket to avant-garde and others like Herwig and Gardner have explored, respectively, the AfroLatin and big band traditions. So, largely without mutes, there's as much or more variety in the approaches of these first-rate trombonists as there was in Jay & Kai, making this a consistently delightful slippery horn outing.

Tracks and Personnel

Trombone for Two/Jay and Kai

Tracks: The Whiffenpoof Song; Give Me The Simple Life; Close As Pages In A Book; Turnabout; Trombone for Two; It's Sand, Man; We Two; Let's Get Away From It All; Goodbye; This Can't Be Love; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; Caribe; Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe; The Song Is You; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning; Tromboniums In Motion; How High The Moon; Violets For Your Furs; Too Close For Comfort; 'S Wonderful.

Personnel: J. J. Johnson & Kai Winding: trombones; Dick Katz: piano; Paul Chambers (#1-10), Milt Hinton (#11-15), Bill Crow (#16-20): bass; Osie Johnson (#1-10), Shadow Wilson (#11-15), Kenny Clarke (#16-20): drums; Candido Camero: bongos (#12).

The Trombones, Inc.

Tracks: Neckbones; Dues blues; Long before I knwo you; Soft Winds; Tee Jay; Lassus Trombone; It's all right with me; Polka dots and moonbeams; Old devil moon; Impossible; Heat wave; I found a new baby.

Personnel: Eddie Bert, Jimmy Cleveland, Bennie Green, Melba Liston, Benny Powell, Frank Rosolino, Bob Brookmeyer: trombone; Barney Kessel: guitar; Hank Jones, Marty Paich: piano; Wendell Marshall, Milt Hinton, Red Mitchell: bass; Osie Johnson, Mel Lewis: drums.

Trombone Heaven, Vancouver, 1978

Tracks: Medley: Here's That Rainy Day/Stardust; Well, You Needn't; All Blues; Just Friends; Laura/Embraceable You; Ow.

Personnel: Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana: trombone; George Ursan: drums.

Jam Session, Vol. 23

Tracks: Mamacita; Kin Folks; Undecided; Tenderly; Born To Be Blue; You Know I Care; Note Worthy; Short Story; Lover Come Back To Me.

Personnel: Billy Drummond: drums; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Steve LaSpina: bass; Andy LaVerne: piano.


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