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Wednesday, March 5, 2003



Steve Turre: "One 4 J"

Consider the "bone," as it's called among the jazz tribe. A vestige of ancient orchestras, fighting for survival amid competition from sultry saxophones, sweet clarinets and red-hot trumpets, the lumbering, awkward "bone" has always quavered near extinction. We're talking, of course, about the trombone, that odd, slippery, protuberant instrument. In its evolution, the trombone added counterpoint in the syncopations of New Orleans and heft in the swing orchestras, but with the be-bop demands of fast-fingered soloing and quick-shifting harmonies, the trombone ended up on the endangered instrument list.

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Pity, though, is not one of the emotions that trombonist Steve Turre's "One 4 J" will inspire. Instead, it brings out the trombone's dignity and versatility. The CD is a tribute to J.J. Johnson, without whom the trombone might have been lost to jazz altogether. He was one of the few who adapted the trombone to be-bop's speed. He also composed melodies that showed off the trombone's tonal vibrancy, helping to make his '50s and '60s releases classics of post-bop.

For this tribute to Johnson, Turre brings in five of jazz's best trombonists to share the fun. Each song matches up two to six trombones. "Lament" puts four trombones together for a ballad, the instruments harmonizing across sweeping tonal ranges that additionally drop in modern flourishes to Johnson's original. The same trombone ensemble on "Kelo," though, does a funky take, with all the raspy timbre of the trombones raging away. The sassy "talking" mute on the takeout is the perfect ending to rounds of heartfelt solos from all the trombonists.

"One 4 J," by Turre, is something of a centerpiece, on which Turre and trombonist Andre Hayward pair off to throw solos back and forth. They replicate Johnson's famed two-trombone front line with verve, obviously enjoying the repartee. At the beginning and the end, the two trombones purr like two well-oiled engines, guiding the song through takeoff and landing. The top-notch players in the rhythm section -- Stephen Scott, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Victor Lewis -- are content here to lay down a solid groove and just let the bones fly.

Most of the time, though, the pace remains mid-tempo to allow the trombone's sound to resonate. The blues of "Mr. Johnson" amble lazily so Robin Eubanks and Turre can cover the tune with a sound like warm honey. It's this easygoing lushness that gives the CD its real appeal and ensures that the trombone will not only survive but also broadly flourish one day.

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