John Gordon – Step By Step – Strata-East Records 

by | Oct 30, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

John Gordon – Step By Step – Strata-East Records SES19760 (1976)/Pure Pleasure Records (2018) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 40:07

(John Gordon – trombone; Charles Tolliver – trumpet; Roland Alexander – tenor/soprano saxophone, flute; Lisle Atkinson – bass; Andrew Cyrille – drums; Stanley Cowell – piano)

There have been several notable jazz trombonists over the years. The inherent difficulty (a brass instrument with a telescopic slide that changes pitch) make this a unique playing challenge. Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Curtis Fuller, Delfeayo Marsalis, Slide Hampton and Kai Winding are among the greatest trombonists. Trombone Shorty (from the Treme in New Orleans) has sustained the appeal of the trombone, a staple in Nola music. One of the purveyors of trombone jazz is New York native, John Gordon. After studying at Julliard School, he became an in-demand session player. Gordon played with Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry and Count Basie. He also fronted a band while recording for Post-Bop/Afro-Jazz 70’s label Strata-East (known for Winter In America, the iconic album by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson).

Pure Pleasure Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of Gordon’s lone sole project with Strata-East, Step By Step. Featuring a talented sextet (including label founders Charles Tolliver on trumpet and Stanley Cowell on piano), the collection of mostly original compositions incorporates a variety of musical styles. The three-pronged effect of trombone, trumpet and saxophone (Roland Alexander) is stellar in unison play and soloing. The rhythm section is anchored by Lisle Atkinson on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. Side One opens with a diversely arranged title cut. It begins with a tempo-driven vamp on bass and piano that leads to a “brass/reed’ unison riff. Gordon solos first with a fluid trombone that emphasizes deft phrasing against piano. A slight key modulation precedes the trumpet. With a barely perceptible vibrato, Tolliver keeps the energy flowing and Cowell’s electric piano changes the resonance from bop to a fusion-esque vibe. Alexander follows with a trill-laden soprano sax (accompanied by Atkinson’s formidable bass work), creating a more airy free-form dimension. Cyrille has a brief solo before the unison refrain is reprised. At 10:45, this is the longest track on the album and touches on many jazz elements.

P & G Inc. is under five minutes and creates an up tempo Latin “large ensemble” energy. Gordon is up first again with forceful licks as the piano, bass and drums propel the jam. Alexander switches to tenor with equal attitude and buoyancy. Tolliver’s piercing trumpet establishes a grittier tonality. Cowell’s ebullient piano solo displays the sprightly ambience of traditional jazz. “Dance Of The Ymas” is a spirited bop swing number that gets underway with a drum riff. A triple unison lead gives way to the tenor run. Again Atkinson’s percolating bass is emphatic. Trombone and trumpet are equally hard-driving. Before the big finish, Atkinson gets an extended solo. Side Two does not relent. On “No Tricks/No Gimmicks”, more complex hard-edged bop potency is evident. Gordon’s trombone lead is tough as nails, but always exudes a silkiness. Piano, bass and drums provide a muscular backdrop. Tolliver offers searing vitality and technical prowess. Alexander also burns with intensity. Cowell’s articulate, rhythmic solo showcases right hand urgency, as the integrated coherent finish ensues.

In a significant change of pace, “Making Memories” slows things down considerably. Gordon adopts saucier, playful hooks. The New Orleans “harmony” is revisited with haunting flute accents. Alexander imbues his flute solo with ethereal agility. After a crisp run by Cowell, Gordon adroitly combines with the second line chorus (shaded by flute counterpoint). The finale (the only song not written by Gordon) is replete with syncopation and punctuated stops. The softer electric piano radiates warmth as tenor and trombone share the spotlight.

Step By Step is excellent jazz. Pure Pleasure Records’ re-mastering is top-notch. The stereo separation is exact. When the horns and sax are blended it is layered without density. The electric piano glows with low-key echo. The trombone is mellow, with occasional touchers of harshness. All of the reed tonal versatility is present, shrill on soprano and mellifluous on tenor. The mix keeps the rhythm section at the bottom, but increases the volume and placement of the bass.       

TrackList: 
Side One:
Step By Step
P &amp
G Incorporated
Dance Of The Ymas

Side Two:
No Tricks/No Gimmicks
Making Memories
Activity

—Robbie Gerson

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