Conrad Herwig

Land of Shadow

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Conrad Herwig is a musician on a mission to bring trombone into the front rank of jazz horns. And over his two-decade long career he's succeeded admirably in demonstrating the horn's flexibility. Still, his playing sometimes seems weighted down by that sense of mission. At his best, as he is consistently on Land of Shadow, he lets it rip, with the trombone's natural voice, complete with its slight slurs and slides, coloring the relentless torrent of notes. Though, as on most of his sessions, this date is devoted to his own originals, Herwig opens with a high-powered take on the standard "Lullaby of Leaves," which sets the tone and introduces his sidemen. Pianist David Kikoski is especially impressive here, stretching the tune's harmonic structure to its limits. His more lyrical side is shown on the date's only other cover, Duke Ellington's "Gypsy Without a Song." Trumpeter Tim Hagans complements the leader's ethos, evoking such progressive boppers as Booker Little and Ted Curson. The trumpeter, Hagans, charges through the harmonic mazes with the urgency of a fullback trying to gain a few more yards. Saxophonist Ben Schachter is a new voice. An educator from Philadelphia he plays with a tone like a fine carving knife -- buffed and burnished and sharpened to a fine edge. Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts slashes across the beat, dealing out rhythmic wisecracks at every turn. Bassist James Genus, like his rhythm section mates a regular participant in Herwig-led sessions, plays the straight man, helping guide the ensemble with an insistent throb on the bottom. This helps the listener as well to negotiate Herwig's intriguing originals. The pieces range from the complex structures such as "The Dream Master" to the open jam on the minor-key blues, "Land of Shadow." Another shining entry into Herwig's impressive body of work.

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