Steve Swell

Steve Swell's Suite for Players, Listeners and Other Dreamers

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When this was released, Steve Swell's prodigious talents were only beginning to be widely recognized, and this album exploits his strengths, with confident, powerful horns, and the addition of the brawny violinist Charles Burnham. Although the trombonist leads a sextet, the absence of a piano gives the group the feel of something larger, in part a function of the full-sounding front line. Swell wrote the seven tracks as a suite, though the connecting thread is not always apparent. The trombonist/leader/poet is clearly reaching for something that transcends the simple structure of head -- solos -- without abandoning the concept of theme. He does so by using extended, rooted arrangements that permit stretches of free improvisation, sometimes with more than one player at a time. Swell's writing is adequate, favoring unison lines over anxious percussion the way Don Drummond sometimes did with the Skatalites, but it is Swell's fulgurous solos on trombone that win the day. He is confident as ever, with a big, even boisterous sound that often stays the course after he seems headed for a train wreck. His improvisations exude personality, offering good examples of how the whole history of the horn can be meshed in a single solo, with growls and flutters buttressed by advanced modern technique. The split personality of "Wildflowers Grow Along This Highway Too" lets Swell wrap himself around Will Connell's tender flute while later on the same tune Swell bursts out of his cocoon with characteristically rambunctious flair. Roy Campbell and Will Connell are sympathetic partners, but it is Kevin Norton whose critical fiery presence never lets things lag. His backing of Campbell on "Groove Merchants of Redwood" is a lesson in perception as the percussionist presciently anticipates the trumpeter's moves, and in a role reversal briefly takes the lead, while Campbell reacts instantly with concentrated interplay. Throughout, Swell wisely lets Norton loose, and the latter's opening display on "Outside In" might be perceived as an updated wild take on the classic big-band drum solo.