Trombone is an instrument, in both jazz and classical worlds, that usually takes the role of the ugly cousin - sure, you invite the player to the party because it’s family, but people would rather sit and stare at the trumpet and saxophonists. This is not to say the history of trombone doesn’t have practitioners who startle and amaze. One only need recall the great recordings of J. J. Johnson, Bill Watrous and Urbie Green, among many more, for proof of the trombone’s inherent artful nature. The hard truth is, however, jazz aficionados would be hard pressed to remember the last time they purchased music led by a trombonist.
So it is with great regret many will pass up masterful and totally underappreciated trombonist Scott Whitfield’s newest CD, Live At Charlie O’s. Whitfield plays with the fire, exuberance, and at times sentimentality, of the best musicians on any instrument. His resume includes time with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Johnny Griffin's Big Soul Band and the Manhattan Vocal Project, in addition to his own work as a leader. Also noted as an accomplished arranger, Whitfield’s charts have been performed and recorded by groups such as Diva, Maurice Hines and Pete Petersen's Collection Jazz Orchestra. Pretty darn solid company.
While he’s more well-known for his big band work, on this disc Whitfield leads a quintet in some of the most hard-swinging music you’re ever likely to come across. From the tight positively hard-edged energy of "Postage Due," to the silky ballad "A Message From The Captain," to the bittersweet medium "Sunset Dreams," Whitfield plays with an abundance of technique that serves to embellish rather than get in the way of his phrases and musical statements. Brilliantly flashy in the high register, and full bodied of tone in the low, this recording should open a lot of ears to his remarkable skill. As an added bonus, his scat singing may be the best out there since the passing of Mel Torme.
Standing alongside Whitfield are multi-reedist Roger Neumann, bassist Jennifer Leitham and drummer Kendall Kay. Taking turns on piano are John Rangel and Bob Florence. Together, the accompanying unit’s dexterity is free-flowing, with moments of great soloistic support. Leitham’s solo on "Sunset Dreams" is so melodic it’s hard to wonder why more bass-clef artists don’t take her lead in approaching their instruments in the same smoothly connected manner. John Rangel’s piano solo on "You Go To My Head" is also a highlight never more aptly proving the "less is more" mantra. All told, a great recording worthy of repeated listening.