Rob McConnell is a magisterial valve-trombonist, as is clear on this CD of charts he wrote when surgery sidelined him a while from blowing. His arranging style, which he describes as an attempt at Basie by Gil Evans, makes him a sort of Canadian cousin to Slide Hampton, though with something like the Maynard Ferguson line-up Hampton grew with, including certainly another two individual voices. On alto saxophone P.J. Perry plays lines reminiscent of Sonny Stitt’s tenor-playing, and on fluegelhorn Guido Basso’s unusually clean bell-like sound recalls more Bix Beiderbecke-influenced coronetists such as Bobby Hackett and the recently departed Ruby Braff (who reported Miles Davis’s interest in Beiderbecke as deep as anybody’s).
This risks becoming a motif, but McConnell’s valve-trombone soloing isn’t like Brookmeyer’s (whose style reflects love of older idiosyncratic slide-players) but closer in phrasing and intonation to a fluegelhornist’s. He can also fill out his instrument’s wider resonance.
Canadian Rob McConnell uses his CD’s title to honor Toronto’s Ted O’Reilly (whom God preserve) who recently resigned after 37 years as a jazz broadcaster. Broadcasting in Britain over the same period, musician and author Humphrey Lyttelton (check www.bbc.co.uk) made me and many other listeners continuously aware of McConnell. Did some mechanism of Freudian defence lead McConnell to arrange “If I Were a Bell” (as he says) on the inspiration of a performance of the tune on the Concord CD of Roger Kellaway/ Red Mitchell piano-bass duetting at Maybeck Hall? In any event, McConnell’s chart doesn’t resemble Miles Davis’s famous performance of the feature, nor does Guido Basso sound like Davis as he lifts this arrangement to a climax with a most beautiful tone.
“Everything Happens to Me” has a jazz trombone pedigree from the brilliant Bill Harris’s recording, and the scoring echoes Harris’s extravert sound before McConnell plays it as a feature sounding like nobody else. “Somewhere in the Night” is a tribute to the ensemble mentioned in Steve Turre’s liner notes (One4J: Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson) as “J&K”. Who “J” might be can be easily guessed, but the “K” was Kai Winding, who some slip lets go unnamed by Steve Turre. Now aged 65, McConnell identifies as perhaps his last high F the one he plays in duet there with Terry Promane. He has plenty more good notes, though!