Friday, December 8, 2017

Bob Ferrel's Jazztopian Dream

I have enormous respect for the trombone. Why? I'm not much of a musician, but I have tried to learn quite a few instruments over the years--drums, guitar, piano, saxophone, clarinet, ukelele and a few others. The trombone was the one instrument that would not allow me to create a single solitary note, not even by accident. So when I hear the sound of the trombone in a particular recording I think oh, there you are you obstinate bastard. Are you mocking me again?

It's all said in jest, of course, but this is the reason why I get a thrill from listening to great trombonist ply their craft. I know how difficult it is to play this seemingly simple brass instrument (by simple, I mean no valves), so I marvel when it's done beautifully. Bob Ferrel is one of those rare humans who have mastered the trombone and have made it sound beautiful, complex and full of emotion. Ferrel has been performing for over forty years with such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He's also played with Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Stevie Ray Vaughn. You want a great trombonist? Here's a legend.

On his new album, Jazztopian Dream, Ferrel provides sort of an advanced primer on the trombone. This mixture of classics and originals shows just how varied this brass instrument can be--Ferrel engages in such techniques as triple-tonguing, multi-phonics and lots of "growl." He can soften the tones, he can blur them and he can even coax them into an astonishing level of purity and clarity. His large band is just as flexible--they can sound like a traditional big band, an Afro-Cuban ensemble or they can even pull the focus and sound like a tight be-bop quartet or quintet. Dwight West sings on a handful of tracks as well, sounding like Joe Henderson with a big clear delivery that seems to emphasize every syllable.

The album ends with a hoot--"Soul Bop" stretches the timbres of Ferrel's trombone into an almost guttural language. It's hard to decide if Ferrel is exploring new frontiers or if he's just having way too much fun. I lean toward the latter--just listen to everyone laugh at the end. (Someone says, "That's some fun stuff.") But you're missing something if you don't sit and listen carefully since Ferrel and his band have locked into a rare groove. I could listen to an entire album of this sort of hijinks. The rest is pretty special too--especially if you're a fan of the trombone.

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