George Lewis

The Solo Trombone Record

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At the time of this, his first solo recording, George Lewis was all of 24 years old, having already served in bands led by artists ranging from Count Basie to, most famously, Anthony Braxton. Yet not only can one hear his obvious technical mastery of the instrument but, more crucially, both his respect for the tradition as well as his determined sense of exploration and experimentation. The latter is shown to huge effect on the opening composition, "Toneburst: Three Trombones Simultaneously." Not simply an exercise in overdubbing, Lewis melds the parts into a substantial, if relatively abstract, whole. Aside from demonstrating his inordinate technical ability (which was already, at this point, on par with the best of his generation as well as the previous one), he sets up marvelous counterpoints and variations in style, ranging from the dryly pointillistic to rich and luxurious tones straight out of Ellington's band. It's an astonishingly mature performance. "Phenomenology" is a raucous ride through R&B-inflected jazz, Lewis displaying chops aplenty (and prodigious plunger technique) while nodding with reverence and good humor toward his antecedents on the instrument. He turns to his more prickly style with "Untitled Dream Sequence," though still infusing it with enough romantic elements to avoid any aridity. Finally, there's the spectacular rendition of Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous "Lush Life," played by the young Lewis with such love and feeling so as to put to shame most of his peers. Solo Trombone Record was finally released to disc in 2001 and should be heard by all with an interest in Lewis, the contemporary trombone, and late-20th century creative music in general.

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