Nagel-Heyer knows a good thing when it sees or, rather, hears it. The label has brought trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to the studio or captured him at live performances on a number of occasions, either as a leader (as here) or sideman with other Nagel-Heyer jazz artists. Judging from the play list, the objective here is to expand Gordon's musical horizons, at least with regard to his recorded output. Consequently, the CD's agenda includes not only some classic standards, but modern music by Thelonious Monk, a couple of blues things, and five originals by Gordon. The result is a marvelous hour plus of diverse jazz played in a refreshingly innovative manner.
Gordon and his colleagues clearly enjoy the diverse list they have been asked to perform. There's dripping corn pone, chicken gravy, Southern blues on "Blues for Deac'n Cone," with the piano of Eric Reed and the bass trombone of Roger Floreska getting important air time. Then comes the musical testifyin' of the traditional "Sign Me Up," where Gordon shows his dexterity with the tuba. Gordon introduces the didgeridoo (the long, straight instrument that has been used for many years in the playing of traditional Australian aboriginal music) on "Blues for Deac'n Cone," and it is also the main instrument on Gordon's composition "The Search." Variously sounding like a mouth organ, drum, or tightly strung fiddle (and there are some sounds that escape categorization), the didgeridoo is unique, and when used in unison with other instruments like Winard Harper's drum, is important to the statement Gordon wants to make with "The Search." Other tracks worth highlighting include a beautiful haunting rendition of "Stardust," with Gordon and Reed's contrasting styles providing a new look to this classic tune, and a swinging Gordon-composed "Cheeky." Confident in his expertise as a trombonist, he is not averse to inviting other adept practitioners of that instrument to join him in this session. With all the trombone players, it recalls those J.J. Johnson & Kai Winding Octet recordings from the 1960s. The trombone choir approach is used effectively on "Danny Boy."
This is a top-flight album of excellent music, skillfully arranged and played with imagination and verve. Highly recommended.