Thursday, February 1, 2007

Rick Culver Trio: I'm Old Fashioned

Sea Breeze
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.1.07
Buy CD: I'm Old Fashioned

Trombonist Rick Culver, who began playing when he was 10, decided right then that music would be his life. 

When he was old enough, he joined the Army and spent three years with the Army Field Band. He then earned a master's degree from Juilliard, and followed that with another master's from Michigan State University. 

Culver subsequently moved to Los Angeles and, for more than 18 years, was immersed in the West Coast jazz scene and became a "made" musician. He played in many of the great groups, including those fronted by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and Bob Florence. Culver then returned to Michigan, where he teaches, writes and plays with his own trio (Jeff Kressler on piano, Nick Calandro on bass). 

All 14 tracks on this CD were arranged by Culver, who also wrote eight of them. One might worry, because of a trio's limited instrumentation, that this could make for boring listening. That's definitely not the case. 

The selections include four of the wonderful old standards that my generation grew up with — "I'm Old Fashioned," "Darn That Dream," "If I Had You" and "Emily" — each done beautifully. 

Then Culver takes a chunk of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor ("Going Home") and turns it into a neat little mid-tempo swinger. 

My favorite track is a new take — and sweet piano solo — on a really early jazz form, "Late Life Rag." 

Even "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," although unseasonable, will have you dusting off the ornaments. 

You'll play this album again and again, thanks to the combination of melodies and tempos, and the talent of the trio members. Culver's trombone work is silky-smooth and unforced; he's a master. Kressler's piano is just right for a trio, with his innovative solos and wonderful back-up for the ensemble passages. 

Calandro is excellent on bass, and his solo work is on par with the best I've heard on this instrument. He really drives this group; he has a wonderful beat, with delicate and accurate fingering. 

I haven't yet heard Culver's Painted Scarves, also available on CD, but it just hit my "must have" list.

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