Twelve Unbelchy Men


Aren’t trombonists just deeper-voiced saxophonists? Not always. Slide Hampton’s new Spirit of the Horn nearly blows my plunger. His sweet tones, round notes, and mumbling slurs send shocks through my martini and chills down my 40.

Hampton’s “Pop Goes the Weasel” snippets throughout “April in Paris” extend from the distance rather than skate across the surface, like Caravaggio’s characters on canvases. Caravaggio’s strokes reveal scenes instead of merely place them on parchment, and Hampton achieves the sonic equivalent—blending quotations into his solos rather than just blurting one-liners.

When Hampton grumbles, he sounds like Sarah Vaughan sounding like Louis Armstrong—light but substantial, wise but inquisitive, gravelly but giddy. When Hampton hurries, he sounds like a horse trotting across cobblestone. And even when he misses beats erroneously or hits them predictably, he does so with confident joy.

What does this album offer that other trombone albums don’t? Eleven more trombonists. Yup, 12 altogether. The dirty dozen harmonizes rather than grates, however, opting for hiccup over belch. Hampton’s guest soloist is badass Bill Watrous, who waits for perfect moments in his solos to pause, then speeds ahead without warning, launching a sneak attack on the senses.

The album’s actually Hampton’s first in 24 years with the World of Trombones—that’s the narcissistic name they go by. Well, the world does belong to the rhythm section on “Lester Leaps In,” a tune they tenderized similarly on 1979’s World of Trombones. Missing, this year, is Steve Turre; he’s busy recording tributes to J.J. Johnson, who popularized the jazz trombone in the 1950s and ’60s—and who would no doubt be proud of Hampton’s active swing, handsome arrangements, and warm swagger.