Slide Hampton

Spirit of the Horn

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There are only a handful of instruments -- the cello being the most often used -- that can be multiplied into a satisfying, self-contained orchestra, and Slide Hampton occasionally proves that the trombone can be added to that short list. This get-together, recorded live in Pittsburgh (with all proceeds going to the jazz program at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, an arts and learning center for minorities), marked the first time in over 20 years that Hampton had recorded with his World of Trombones ensemble (though they have gigged in the interim). Expanding his forces from nine to 13 horns, including four bass trombones and his own horn, plus a four-piece rhythm section, Hampton conjures a fine, mellow, robust set of textures, yet not without the trademark edgy dissonances that give his sound a distinctive tang (as in the almost sinister, bass-grounded "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"). Hampton, who turned 70 a few days before this gig, still sounds pretty agile, holding his own with the formidable Bill Watrous in a swift chase down "Cherokee" lane. The centerpiece of the CD is a series of six jazz standards -- J.J. Johnson's "Lament," "Basin Street Blues," "April in Paris," "Lester Leaps In," John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," and Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" -- grouped together under the loose tag "Tribute Suite." It's not really a unified "suite" per se; any standard could have been slipped into the lineup without disturbing the concept. So never mind the pretensions, just enjoy the ever-shifting voicings of "Lester Leaps In," the easygoing lope of "Dolphin Dance," or the way "Basin Street Blues" manages to combine Hampton's sophisticated harmonies with a 1920s-style banjo underpinning. The master also gives way to Max Seigel's strutting arrangement of Richard Carpenter's "Walkin'" (retitled "Walkin' 'N' Rhythm"), where the solos all go to the bass trombonists. And yes, guitarist (and banjoist!) Marty Ashby, as well as pianist Larry Willis and bassist John Lee, get in some profitable solo time amidst this mighty herd of 'bones.

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