Thursday, March 6, 2008

Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven

Uptown Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Trombone Heaven

Within eight bars of this CD's opening track, I knew it was a five-star keeper. 

Regular readers of this column know that I'm partial to jazz trombone, and Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana were two of the best who ever played. This album is a never before released live recording of a 1978 performance at the Bayshore Inn, in Vancouver, B.C. The audio quality is excellent, except for the microphones not being placed close enough to the piano. 

The performance by all concerned is so magnificent, that this minor flaw isn't important. 

This group was a quintet: Rosolino and Fontana on trombone, Elmer Gill on piano, Torban Oxbol on bass and George Ursan on drums. I must confess that Rosolino and Fontana were the only two familiar to me, but that's OK; this rhythm section is outstanding. 

I can't say enough about the artistry of both trombonists. In the words of Bill Watrous, one of today's 'bone masters, "They were both at the absolute top of their instrument. They are the high priests of jazz trombone." 

Both used a "repetitive tonguing" technique that was far beyond the capabilities of other trombonists. Both had played with the top bands of that era: Rosolino with Stan Kenton, Supersax and the Howard Rumsey All Stars; and Fontana with Kenton, Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton. Each fell into the hard bop category, but could play fantastically at any tempo. 

Two of the six tracks on this release are ballad medleys: One combines "Here's that Rainy Day" with "Stardust," while the other blends "Laura" with "Embraceable You." You'll never hear anything as beautiful as those renditions. 

The remaining tunes are all up-tempo covers: Monk's "Well You Needn't," Miles Davis' "All Blues" and "Just Friends," and Dizzy's "Ow." The solos, both as singles and duets, are unbelievably great. 

This CD is one of the longest I've heard, at more than 79 minutes, so there's plenty of time for each player to stretch out. Bassist Torban Oxbol contributes a great beat and several remarkably facile solos, in the manner of Niels-Henning Pedersen. 

I cannot understand why this album took so long to become available to jazz fans.

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