Friday, November 18, 2005

Al Grey - The Thinking Man's Trombone

The Thinking Man's Trombone
Pye Jazz NJL31
Recorded August 23rd-25th, 1960

Side One

1. Salty Papa
2. Don't Cry Baby
3. Stranded
4. Rompin'

Side Two

1. King Bee
2. When I Fall In Love
3. Al-Amo
4. Tenderly


AL GREY; trombone
BENNY POWELL; trombone
JOHN NEWMAN; trumpet
CHARLIE FOWLKES; baritone sax
ED JONES; bass

Wah-Wah. It's a staple of several musics, but wasn't really in use in jazz in 1960. It might be best known as a guitar effect, but brass players had been using it since the 1920's (see this excellent article on wikipedia). And it's the first sound Al Grey makes on this great 1960 LP. This seems to be a UK release, the US version being on the Argo label, according to the sleevenotes.

At the time of recording, Al was playing with Count Basie, so no prizes for guessing what kind of a sound this record has. Big stabs of horn! Swinging tempos! Great tunes! It's also got some first class arrangements courtesy of Nat Pierce (Basie's pianist at the time). And of course, Al's trombone. He's got a great sound, a huge bear hug of a noise that shines through the crackles on my beat-up vinyl. And that wah-wah effect! It's so simple, basically created by wiggling a mute around in the horn, but it sounds sooo good. It's a real shame the guitarists picked up on it, can you think what funk would sound like if composed entirely of trombones...

After reading the above, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another swing LP, but there's much more to it than that. The overall feel is much more boppish, with lots of improvisatory play by the whole band, especially on side two's opener, "King Bee". It's not a million miles away from the up-tempo numbers on Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool", in fact. Powell more than keeps up with Grey's trombone playing, but with a much more regular sound - there's certainly no difficulty in telling those two apart.

Al Grey first came into my life as part of an outstanding Bobby Hutcherson CD which i'd highly reccommend to anyone who likes either the trombone or vibes in jazz. If you want to read more about Al, check out this biography.


donthaveablog said...

Hi...I just heard 'Salty Papa' and subsequently tried to locate it on CD. Have you any idea if this album was release on sadly doesn't appear to be. Know anywhere else I can find the song? Thanks!

craig said...

Hi donthaveablog, I'm not aware of this LP having had a CD issue, but there was a 1999 issue of 'Night Train, Revisited' which contains 'Salty Papa'. Check out this link