Wycliffe Gordon & Jay Leonhart -
Review by Brad WalsethThe pairing of humor with Jazz is an old one dating back to the very roots of this form of music. The base, often cruel humor of mistrelry gave way to vaudeville acts like the infamous "Gallagher and Shean," Louis Armstrong's mugging, and the musical comedy team "Slim (Galliard) and Slam (Stewart)." Coinciding with the rise of the civil rights movement and the demand for African American musicians to be treated with due respect for their musical compositions, Jazz became more serious, complex and often spiritual in nature, and humor on the part of jazz musicians was often seen as "Uncle-Tomming." But humor is a part of life, and for Jazz to be complete and well-rounded, it seems humor must indeed be a part of it. Two highly-accomplished musicians and humorists by the names of Wycliffe Gordon and Jay Leonhart have combined forces to share their love of Jazz as well as a good laugh on their recent release - the delightful "This Rhythm on My Mind."
Wycliffe Gordon is one of the hottest young trombonists in the business today. He has led his own quartet for several years and has performed with many of the top jazz artists of the day. Perhaps he is best known for his work with Wynton Marsalis, as well as with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Besides his uncanny ability on the trombone - which features a deft touch and ability to play in many primarily traditional styles - he also shows his skills on the tuba to good stead on this recording. His partner in this venture is Jay Leonhart, who is one of the top sessions bassists in the biz, and who has played with notables like Tony Bennett, Jim Hall and Ozzy Osbourne(?!). Father to young jazz musicians Michael (trumpet) and Carolyn (voice), Leonhart is a master of the bass violin whose warm tones and tasteful lines remind one of Jay's teacher and mentor - the late Ray Brown. Gordon and Leonhart met while playing in various configurations and discoverd they shared a similar love of music and sly sense of humor.
The pairing of two low end instruments (three counting the tuba) would seem to leave a great deal of space on the recording, but the two principals use their secret weapon to fill the void. Both are singers of note, and they use their voices as instruments to color the scenery where horns and pianos normally would be. A good example is their version of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" where unlike The Four Freshmen vocal version (amonmg others), voices are used like horns and give the work a New Orleans funeral feel. Many of the songs feature scatting, and both artists are adept at this art. Gordon invokes the ghost of Satchmo in his low, gravelly vocals, as in his bluesy "Toast My Bread" and "I Want My Blooz Back" (Gordon's muted bone shines here as well). Meanwhile Leonhart dances along lightly - his voice higher and thinner - a perfect compliment to his friend - while contributing witty songs like "Problem," "Lucky Day" and "Little Henry."
This is not to say everything is just a lark. Leonhart adds lyrics and vocals to a steamy version of Eddie Harris' Freedom Jazz Dance - with guest Wayne Escoffrey on tenor sax and Gordon on the Australian didjeridoo! Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In" is also given the works by the duo - with Harry Allen on tenor, Gordon scatting bass, and Leonhart taking a muted trumpet part with his voice, while a chorus of combined voices cover various horn parts - this is stellar stuff. And Leonhart's "Missin RB Blues" (RB being Ray Brown) is a wonderfully bittersweet tribute to the great bassist - complete with Leonhart's clearly admiring basswork (you'd swear it was RB himself).
The two quite different voices harmonize perfectly on Gordon's "All Alone" and that seems to be the point. Beneath all the fun and snappy music you have two friends - one black, one white, who have found a common ground in music and humor. This is an enjoyably warm and entertaining set with two humans "Home For Supper" who are comfortable with each other's company; while the listener just feels priviledged to be a welcome confidant to their musical conversation.