Review by Brad Walseth
The trombone is a notoriously difficult instrument to play, and there have been relatively few "stars" in the jazz world. Among the most prominent was J.J. Johnson - whose association with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis led him to become the most important and influential trombonist of the bop era - and the one who brought the trombone into prominence as a equal solo instrument within jazz. Since Johnson, Curtis Fuller heralded the trombone's role in the hard bop arena. There have certainly been others of talent, but not many are household names. Among the current generation Delfeayo Marsalis, Steve Turre and Chris Washburne are among those keeping the tradition alive, while taking the instrument into the future. Another name on the list of greats certainly would have to be Bob Brookmeyer - whose associations with Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz and the West Coast scene merits inclusion. Brookmeyer also was different in that he played a valve trombone as opposed to the usual slide version of the instrument. NYC trombonist Mike Fahn also plays the valve trombone, and his tone and technique make one wonder why this wonderful instrument is not heard more often.
The word trombone comes from the Italian meaning "Big Trumpet," and in Fahn's hands that description is most accurate. Originally a trumpeter, Fahn switched to baritone horn, then to slide trombone, before finding his true instrument. A move to Los Angeles in his teens, was fortuitous, as he began to play in various big band and small combo ensembles around the area. He worked with Shorty Rogers, Bob Cooper, Jack Sheldon and Chet Baker, and credits West Coasters Don Menza, Dick Berg and Maynard Ferguson as early influences. Since relocating back to New York, Fahn has been an in-demand sideman and teacher. "Close Your Eyes,,, and Listen" is his second release as bandleader.
Fahn's wife, the noted jazz bassist Mary Ann McSweeney is an obvious influence on her husband, and her "Without Changes" opens the album in striking fashion with this strong yet moody number. Bassist Jay Anderson (who plays on this project) brings his composition "Will Call" to the table, and this uptempo number features Fahn trading fiery solos with tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza. Guitarist Steve Cardenas trades chops with Fahn on half the album (when Margitza sits out) and the version of Keith Jarrett's "Survivor's Suite" is especially delicious. Throughout this song, and indeed the album as a whole, Fahn impresses with his bronze tone and masterful command of his instrument.
"Heart Forest" is a delightful and jaunty tune provided by Margitza, who solos at his best over pianist Charles Blenzig's fine accompaniment. Fahn repays his saxman, with his charming and richly developed solo. "The Burren" is co-written by Fahn with his wife, and features the trombonist overdubbing himself on slide trombones to create a trombone choir. It is a beautiful almost classical piece based on scenic cliffs they visited in Ireland, and Fahn's graceful, haunting playing over Cardenas' shimmering guitar can help one imagine the view.
The husband and wife team also collaborated on "Get Sparky" and Anderson, Cardenas and steady drummer Tim Horner lay down a funky groove for Fahn and Margitza to spiral over, and the results are addictive. Anderson's "On Time" is a bluesy number where Fahn simply shines and Cardenas riffs nicely along. Bernice Petkere's standard, "Close Your Eyes" closes out this strong and consistently enjoyable recording with nice work from Fahn, Blenzig and Margitza and the admirable rhythm section. In the end, although the trombone is tricky to play, the results in the right hands can be immensely rewarding with its full and beautiful timbre. In Mike Fahn, we have a modern master of the valve trombone, and I recommend this recording to anyone who loves the smoothly velvet tones of a well-played "Big Trumpet."