For his maiden album, trombonist Rick Culver has chosen just piano and bass to work with him. At first blush, this setting seems too confining to allow a soloist to fully express his ideas and for listeners to sit through more than 70 minutes of a trombone trio. Perhaps that's so for some trombonists, but not so for Culver, a true virtuoso with the slide instrument. With strict control over the embouchure, he manages to extend the range of the instrument. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the well-worn standard "Body and Soul" where he moves between lowest and highest notes with ease. But even more than technical competency is the sound he creates. There's no other way of saying this: The tone of his trombone is beautiful, combining the smooth precision of Tommy Dorsey with the improvising skills of J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding.
The play list is comprised of 11 standards and two of Culver's compositions, "Painted Scarves" and "Not a Samba Mood," which he dedicates to Bill Holman and Bob Florence with whom he has worked. There's also a nod to Blossom Dearie with a laid-back effortlessly executed "Tea for Two," emulating the delicate way that fine lady of song vocalizes. And effortlessly is an important descriptor of Culver's playing. At no time does he ever give the feeling he is straining to hit a note or create a special harmonic palette.
Jeff Kressler and Dan Kolton are critical to the successful outcome of this session. Kressler's piano, both as a backdrop for Culver and as a soloist filling in the spaces, is outstanding. Understated but persuasive and attention getting is the best way to describe his contribution. Kolton has the ability to make his bass sound like a guitar. His special sound is prevalent throughout, but it is especially prominent on "Autumn Leaves" and "I Thought About You." Painted Scarves is a thoroughly entertaining album and is recommended.