Steve Turre Debuts The Bones Of Art at Dizzy’s in New York
The musicians who were among the last to undergo Art Blakey’s crucible, the Jazz Messengers, forged a bond—one that can take on almost tribal dimensions when those involved play the same instrument. So when former Blakey trombonists Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks and Frank Lacy came together Aug. 1–4 at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, it was a given that a debt to Blakey was owed.
But the debt paid was not explicit. As the early set on Aug. 2 played out, the occasion—an early promotional gig for Turre’s CD The Bones Of Art (HighNote)—proved not to be a paint-by-numbers tribute. The group did not cover any Blakey tunes or attempt to reproduce his style. At the same time, the set captured something of his elegant and probing spirit.
Blakey would certainly have appreciated the artful architecture of both the set and its constituent parts, starting with the animated opener, “Slide’s Rule.” The tune—written by Turre as a tribute to Slide Hampton, a Blakey alumnus who once employed Turre in a nine-trombone ensemble, World of Trombones—provided ample room for each trombonist to establish himself, both as a member of a front line and a solo voice.
The blend was warm with a touch of sizzle, each solo punctuated by a pianistic interlude courtesy of Xavier Davis, a onetime accompanist for Betty Carter who made his points succinctly, supplying just enough connective tissue to allow the front-line personalities to reveal themselves. That they did, with Turre’s controlled fire playing foil to Eubanks’ cool, and both ultimately yielding to Lacy, who made a solid case for himself as the brassy finisher.
Turre showed early that he had a strong sense of programming contrast, downshifting after “Slide’s Rule” with a short, sweet ballad: “Blue And Brown,” a nod to Ellington trombonist Lawrence Brown. The piece offered some of the ensemble’s closest harmonies of the night—an exercise in measured section playing that was broken finally by Turre’s turn on a Brown specialty, the pixie plunger.
As quickly as the players had slowed the set, they shifted gears again with a stately “Settegast Strut,” Lacy’s homage to his hometown in Texas. The tune featured open harmonies and Lacy at his most extroverted, building a multileveled, multihued solo complete with a climactic series of glissandi.
“Strut,” meanwhile, served as preparation for a kind of sashay: the entrance of singer Andromeda, a surprise visitor who ambled on stage to no small notice. Turre introduced her as the last of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, though later revealed she was also his daughter. Andromeda contributed some lively scat and plenty of visual contrast to the all-male band, which was rounded out by Kenny Davis on bass and Willie Jones III on drums.
The tune Andromeda chose was Ellington’s “Caravan,” and it also generated some of the most intense front-line interaction of the set—an extended sequence of traded fours in which Eubanks, wielding the single unmuted ax, showed real heat. Andromeda may have provided some inspiration on that account.
The energy generated by “Caravan” proved to be a warm-up for the set’s closer, “Daylight,” a jaunty Afro-Cuban affair that was written by trombonist Steve Davis, who appears on The Bones Of Art but was not present at the show. The tune offered a summation of the night, with final solo statements and sustained rhythmic interplay. Here, Turre drew on his Latin side, emerging as a keen exponent of both the cowbell and the maracas.
But the highlight came when he unveiled his famous conch shells. He had four at hand, having left the biggest, which is only capable of spanning a third, at home. The shells he brought could variously bridge a fourth and a sixth, allowing him to cover a full octave by moving between two shells, which he did with abandon. Pianist Davis and bassist Davis both followed his harmonic development—no mean feat—but in the end, the shells had a more percussive effect. It was surely one that Blakey, a drummer, would have enjoyed.