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Keep Searchin by Steve Turre

Having recently seen Steve Turre in performance--with McCoy Tyner's septet--and interviewed him for a section on Rahsaan Roland Kirk for my forthcoming book on The Flute In Jazz, I think I understand why Steve is regarded by many, including the Readers' and Critics' polls in JazzTimes, Downbeat, and Jazziz as the finest trombonist in jazz.

To begin with, there are the obvious, technical things--facility, sound, time, harmonic sophistication, melodic inventiveness--Turre has all of these in great measure. But in my experience, when a musician captures the imagination of his audience(s) there is something more than this, a depth of spirit that he or she is able to project. In Turre's case this is a combination of his own personality--he is a big man with a big heart--plus his background, which has included a conscious attempt to embrace the whole history of his genre and his instrument. This has been aided by his studies at the universities of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, Chico Hamilton, Ray Charles, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Slide Hampton, Lester Bowie, McCoy Tyner, Dizzie Gillespie, as well as with Latin artists from Celia Cruz to Tito Puente, Mongo Sanatamaria, Oscar DeLeon, El Gran Combo, and Johnny Ventura. The end result is what you hear, more and more, in his performances and recordings.

There have been quite a few trombonists, most notably, perhaps, Roswell Rudd, who have reached back to earlier, pre-bop styles to escape the straightjacket imposed by J.J. Johnson on a generation of players. Fine--Turre does all that. It was, in fact, Rahsaan Roland Kirk who urged him to explore his roots. "He turned me on to Vic Dickenson and Trummy Young and Dickie Wells and J.C. Higginbotham and Jack Teagarden," Turre told Bob Bernotas, ( "the cats from the swing period that were between J.J. and Kid Ory. You've got to build the house from the foundation on up. Rahsaan stressed this to me and I took it to heart." The difference between Turre and Rudd, however, is that Turre also absorbed J.J. Johnson. In fact, he established a personal relationship with J.J., recording with him and playing at his funeral.

The result of this approach is, as I wrote in my review of The Spirits Up Above "If we can hear Vic Dickenson, Dickie Wells, Trummy Young and Jack Teagarden in Turre's playing, as well as Kid Ory and J.J. Johnson, this stems from Turre's time with Kirk. But none of it is superficially grafted on, it has all been absorbed and fashioned into the archetypal jazz trombone sound." Along with this, there is Turre's eclecticism, his exploration of many areas of music. "I love the whole family, He says. "It's all valid to me." This results in a great variety of settings that he creates for his performances and recordings, from a duo with his cellist wife Akua Dixon, who appears here on three tracks playing a baritone violin, to a trio, various quartets and quintets and his shell choir. Never a dull moment.

On this session Turre has chosen to work with a quintet with several fine up and coming jazz players, and an unusual front-line sonority. "Three-quarters of the groups out there are trumpet-saxophone," he complained to Bob Bernotas, "trumpet-saxophone, trumpet-saxophone, trumpet-saxophone, trumpet-saxophone. I'm so sick of trumpet-saxophone. It's just getting redundant, 'cause you're not going to get any better than Diz and Bird or Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown or Miles with Trane or Miles with Wayne or Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson with Horace Silver. I mean, it's all kind of a rehash of that. It's a great sound. I still love it, but that's the only sound that's out here." To avoid this, Turre partners his trombone with Stefon Harris' vibraharp. Harris is a very strong soloist who has also experimented with varied settings on his own recordings. Davis is also a strong soloist, the rhythm section provides exemplary support throughout, and Dixon-Turre's baritone violin and Steve's shells add further color.

As for the program, it is also diverse. In a recent interview with all*about*jazz's Gary Firstenberg (, Steve confirmed this:

"It's diverse it merges traditional and modern sounds. It's very eclectic in styles. There is a confidence in the music, with rich, full textures, and it swings. "Sanyas" is an original composition I wrote long ago, and used to perform with Woody Shaw in the ‘ 70s. There is a straightforward blues called "Da' Blues," and it's straight from the heart. "Faded Beauty" is one of Stefon Harris' tunes, and it showcases the vibes. "Time Off" is a classic Curtis Fuller tune, done at a fast tempo. The title track, "Keep Searchin'" is also an original composition of mine. One of the more experimental tunes is "Reconciliation." It's a new harmony piece, twenty-one bars to the form. It's a song about the importance of working through your problems. "Thandiwa" is a song by Grachan Moncur III. I also do a tender version of "My Funny Valentine." I am very pleased with the overall sound of this recording."

You can see why. If, perhaps, a little more straightforward than some of his other recordings, it is just as challenging, colorful, and passionate. Having paid tribute to some of his mentors in earlier dates such as 2003's One4J: Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson and 2004's The Spirits Up Above which was dedicated to Rahsaan, Turre continues to celebrate his roots here with compositions by trombonists Grachan Moncur III and Curtis Fuller along with originals by himself and Harris. And, of course, "Da Blues" also makes an appearance. Above all, Steve Turre practices what he preaches. "It isn't about how many notes you play," he states, "or how high you play or how fast you play. It's about what you're saying." What he has to say here is definitely worth hearing and in line with his basic philosophy: "A musician's like a doctor, you're supposed to heal people. You make them feel better. As long as I can keep doing that, I'm a happy man."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Turre
  • CD Title: Keep Searchin
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Unknown
  • Musicians: 1. Sanyas 2. Faded Beauty 3. Thandiwa 4. Reconciliation 5. Time Off 6. My Funny Valentine 7. Easy Now 8. Steppin Out 9. Da Blues 10. Keep Searchin''
  • Rating: Five Stars
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