Whitney Balliet famously described jazz as the 'sound of surprise'.
The music found on The Dance of The Living Room Sofas certainly contains its fair share of the pleasantly unanticipated.
On this recording, Hamburg-based American trombonist Jerry Tilitz leads a remarkable session in the company of some of New York City's most notable jazz standard-bearers: versatile bassist and M-Base collaborator Lonnie Plaxico, scalding tenor saxophonist Don Braden, phenomenal drummer Cecil Brooks III, and tasteful pianist Michael Cochrane.
The title track, an easy-going bop-blues piece helps sets the tone for the disc and throws the spotlight on Plaxico's Slam Stewart-like arco bass playing.
The hummable and melodic mid-tempo reverie, In A Sunny Daze, is a serious contender for inclusion in the classic standards repertoire. After, all, Mr. Tilitz has been a jazz trombonist for more than a quarter of a century, a run which includes study stints with Curtis Fuller and Lennie Tristano, college teaching assignments in New York City, and being a recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts.
Hands Up Horst, an intriguing Tilitz original characterised by a stop-and-start chorus and be-bop section, suggests part of a soundtrack for a kiddies television cartoon. Despite the inventive architecture of Tilitz's solo, Plaxico's persuasive stalking bass, and Brooks' explosive drum solo, the repetition of the chorus comes across as curiously jarring and over-stated. This however is a minor quibble: Tilitz generally deploys his arsenal of technical skills - a soft burnished tone, multiphonality, fleet fingered arpeggios and velocity - in a wonderfully engaging manner.
Listeners will also find a tenderly rendered take on Michael Jackson's I Can't Stop Loving You, an unexpected yet sublime pop vehicle which Tilitz supplies with a delightfully sensitive reading. Mr. Tilitz's heartfelt crooning on You've Changed singles him out as a promising vocal interpreter, though the tune could have done with his trombone solo treatment.
The old chestnut, Sweet Georgia Brown, as faithful as a firm handshake, and a litmus test for the advanced improvisor, finds the quintet in fine form, rollicking along at a brisk speed with Tilitz and Braden going head to head in the manner of the Johnson-Mobley encounters of yore.
The Caribbean-Latin flavours conjured up in Down South bespeak Tilitz's catholicity of compositional taste, and his willingness to experiment with varying tempi. Cochrane's Tyner-esque piano solo is a highlight of the tune.
A curious piece of musical plumbing, the trombone has nevertheless quietly wielded considerable influence throughout the history of jazz. Notwithstanding the tragic passing of J. J. Johnson - arguably the Charlie Parker of the modern trombone - the state of the instrument is as healthy as ever, especially with the formidable talents of composers and players such as Jerry Tilitz.