Mariel Bildstein may be best know as the high-voltage lead trombonist in Arturo O’Farrill‘s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, but she’s also a composer and bandleader. Her new album Backbone – streaming at Bandcamp – is a straight-up, swinging, purist mix of tunes from across the ages. Bildstein maintains a remarkable focus and doesn’t waste notes.
The opening number, Horace Silver’s Ecaroh bristles with surreal harmonies, Stacy Dillard taking a couple of bracing solos on soprano sax, pianist Sean Mason bringing in some ragtime and gospel, the bandleader getting wry with the quotebook right off the bat.
Harold Arlen’s The Man That Got Away is a steady swing blues, Bildstein taking a spare, New Orleans-flavored solo as Evan Sherman’s drums drop out and bassist Ben Wolfe strolls along purposefully. A nocturnal Spanish atmosphere permeates Rosita, from Mason’s biting bolero piano to Dillard’s misty tenor sax; the coy horn harmonies lighten the piece considerably as it goes on, with a jaunty little bass cadenza to cap it off. The Coleman Hawkins version is an obvious precursor.
Monaco follows a similar trajectory from stern intensity toward jubilation on the wings of Bildstein’s no-nonsense solo, handing off to Dillard’s spiraling tenor, Mason adding bluesy simmer. Bildstein looms distantly, then has sly fun with her mute over Wolfe’s slow, considered syncopation in their stripped-down duo version of Mood Indigo. The group close the album by reinventing The Lamp Is Low as a jaunty cha-cha anchored by guest percussionist Keisel Jimenez’s clave.