By Fred Bouchard | Published February 2018
The idea of a bunch of standards and jazz oldies played by a crusty veteran trombonist with gal singer and drum-less rhythm section may not strike you right off as hot stuff, but let me pull your coat.
Trombonist Roswell Rudd inhabits his noblest of axes like none other. He reigns over dead-slow tempos and excels at medium trots, summoning more dry wit and expressive breadth with plunger mute on “Can’t We Be Friends” than Charlie Chaplin. Vocalist Fay Victor evinces pain, joy and lust with exceptional candor and warmth. Bassist Ken Filiano and pianist Lafayette Harris find amiable affinity as backroom buddies of easy accord, imperfect straight men for free-form front-line antics.
The repertoire on Embrace was all written before 1958 (except a wry ditty by Rudd’s partner, Verna Gillis). At 82, Rudd has been playing these compositions for ages, and his accumulated affection is tangible as barnacles. They’re eclectic as Rudd, who embodies a rich confluence of jazz cultures.
There are no polished charts, rather rough-cut barroom jams by solid pros exuding gritty experience and slow-smoked passion. Taking their sweet time, the band jostles inside the lyrics to nudge nuanced emotions.
Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica”–drawn from Carmen McRae’s version with Jon Hendricks’ lyrics–is a far cry from the snappy two-step he and Steve Lacy laid down on School Days (1961). Roswell here reminisces on his savory, crunchy career, showing us, with a bearhug, that it’s been one swell ride.
Embrace: Something To Live For; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Can't We Be Friends?; I Hadn't Anyone Til You; Too Late Now; House Of The Rising Sun; I Look In The Mirror; Pannonica. (65:11)
Personnel: Roswell Rudd, trombone; Fay Victor, vocals; Lafayette Harris, piano; Ken Filiano, bass.