Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bill Cantrall and Axiom: Live at the Kitano

Upswing Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live at the Kitano

It’s been awhile since a swinging trombonist has made a name for himself in the world of jazz, so let me introduce Bill Cantrall. 

Okay, he isn’t brand new, having served apprenticeships with the likes of Gil Evans, James Moody, Paquito D’Rivera and a number of other name artists since 2006, but Cantrall has released only two albums: 2007’s Axiom and this one, so it’s probably safe to say that he’s not well-known outside of the greater New York City area. 

Cantrall was born and raised in and around the Big Apple, but earned his initial college degree — music and electrical engineering — at Northwestern University. After working with musical groups in the Chicago area, he returned to Queens College to study for his master’s degree in trombone, composition and arranging. He formed Axiom in ’07; the unit varies from a trio to septet, depending on the size of the performance venues. For Live at the Kitano, the basic group is a quintet — trombone, sax, piano, bass and drums — although Cantrall added an alto sax and trumpet for the title track. 

As for style, we’re in the hard-bop genre. Cantrall composed all but one of these tracks; the exception is “After You,” a seldom-heard Cole Porter tune written for the 1932 stage play The Gay Divorce (later turned into the Astaire/Rogers big-screen musical The Gay Divorcee). 

This is a young band, age-wise, and none of these artists can be considered familiar, but that doesn’t mean they don’t swing. Many albums that have been recorded live don’t necessarily feel that way, but this production truly gives the listener the impression of being part of the audience. Introductions of the musicians are included, and the club’s ambiance is evident. The Kitano’s acoustics, together with the excellent recording and mixing work, make for a very enjoyable listening experience.

The set is “happy,” with only one tune, “Shaniece,” a ballad; the rest are mid- to up-tempo swingers. No time limitations were placed on the artists; each track runs at least 10 minutes, while “Axiom” lingers for almost 25 minutes. That allows each musician to really stretch out and develop the solo passages. That could be a disadvantage, in lesser hands, but not to worry: These guys truly are that good. 

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