Jazz involves both challenge and collaboration. Both qualities are magnified when a duo setting involves masters of the same instrument - Zoot Sims and Al Cohn on tenor, Soprano Summit with Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern, J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding on trombone. In this tradition, "Head to Head" presents the trombone team of John Allred and Wycliffe Gordon.
Allred, who furnished most of the arrangements, is well versed in all styles of jazz and has worked with Woody,Toshiko and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. The youthful veteran Gordon is best known for his involvement with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. A concert two days before this record date was their very first major appearance together.
The CD opens with a salute. "It's All Right With Me" for Jay and Kai and closes with another," America the Beautiful." Plenty of variety in between including the individual trombone styles. In general, Gordon tends to be the extrovert while Allred leans to the mellow. Together they explore the range of the trombone. Gordon makes the instrument speak on Horace Silver's funky "The Preacher." There's a breakneck "Cottontail," a Dixie 'If I Had You", a virtuoso treatment of Armstrong's "West End Blues", an Ellington medley and do they have fun with "The Curse of an Aching Heart." "Creole Love Call" is a conversation.
A word about the rhythm section. They define solid support. Just listen to how the bass and drums keep the pot boiling, particularly on "Preacher" and "Caravan." Pianist Sheridan provides a number of cleanly articulated solos. His and the bones' probing of "Skylark" illustrates why that tune is an improviser's dream.
A Sondheim song stresses the importance to relationships of "little things you do together." Although he didn't have music in mind it applies to this intuitive pair. They play as though they've been together for years. Let's hope they will be.