- Artist: Bill Cantrall
- Format: CD
- Release Date:7/29/2008
Liner notes by Willard Jenkins For his debut release trombonist Bill Cantrall delivers a program heavily steeped in one of jazz music's enduring legacies, yet fresh enough to stand up to today's contemporary standards. Axiom delivers the goods in the classic tradition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with hints of the Jazztet as well. But that's not to say this is some tired evocation of a bygone era, far from it. What the intrepid listener will find is that post-bop sensibility, but it's served up with a freshness that clearly makes it entirely current in it's spirited outlook. So just who is this guy Bill Cantrall, and how did he go about commandeering such a compatible cast of musicians to collaborate on this CD? Based in New York after growing up in New Jersey, Bill took a detour to Chicago to pursue bachelors' degrees in music and electrical engineering at Northwestern University. That classy institution's proximity north of Chicago offers the intrepid student plenty of opportunities to rub shoulders with Chi-town's stylistically diverse community of musicians. And Bill Cantrall is nothing if not opportunistic. Cantrall developed his playing in situations ranging from encounters with bop master Von Freeman, to the edgier bandleader Rob Mazurek (Exploding Star Orchestra) and guitarist Jeff Parker. And like all good trombonists he also found a home on Chicago's fertile salsa scene. Post-grad the siren song of New York became irresistible and Cantrall headed back home to pursue his masters at Queens College. Once again salsa bands, notable for their employ of good, muscular trombonists, yielded plenty of work for Cantrall, including Miles Pena and Los Hermanos Morenos, and the big band Cubarama. At Queens College Cantrall came under the tutelage of the great pianist Sir Roland Hanna, and trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman, himself no stranger to high class Latin bands. Times did grow lean and Bill fell back on his engineering degree, garnering work as an architect firm acoustical consultant, a field in which he remains active. As a trombonist Bill Cantrall is one of the grandsons of J.J. Johnson. One listen to his beautiful work on the ballad "Shanice" or the rapid-fire slide of "Torrent" is enough to convince you that he's learned his lessons well. "I had been thinking about doing a septet recording for some time and I was really lucky to be able to assemble this band. These guys all brought their unique sounds, styles and abilities." And this crew is so adept that "we didn't do more than two takes," Cantrall explained, on any one track. Pianist Rick Germanson, a native of Milwaukee as is bassist Gerald Cannon, became a Cantrall cohort in Chicago and the leader was determined that the pianist would be part of the essential foundation of this date. "Besides being a soloist who always has great ideas, Rick really knows how to comp behind a soloist, he really knows how to enhance a solo." Germanson's homeboy Cannon piqued Cantrall's interests during the bassist's long stint with the Roy Hargrove band, as later on did alto saxman Sherman Irby and drummer Montez Coleman. "Gerald has an incredible beat, lightening quick ears, and he can lead the rhythm section into some different, exciting stuff. Sherman is a master of phrasing and can really inject some serious energy into a song." Coleman stokes a similar level of fire, so you get the idea that this is most assuredly not a somnambulant date by any stretch. Tenor man Stacy Dillard is blessed with a gorgeous, full sound on his instrument, which Cantrall immediately fell in love with and determined to add to this mix. Trumpeter Ryan Kisor steps out from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra trumpet section to once again prove his mettle as a distinctive soloist and "one of the most unique voices on trumpet out there," declares Cantrall. For this date, Cantrall selected seven originals, including one given two contrasting viewpoints, and two under-worked standards. "Axiom" comes on strong with Germanson's distinct chords and the assertive rhythm section, befitting the crisp attack of the succeeding horn section head. The tune also quickly establishes the high level of harmonic sophistication that is a hallmark throughout this date. Next up is a "Minor Transgression" but there's no infringement here! Kisor eases into his solo with a sound that recalls Woody Shaw in the distance, but all foregrounded by his own approach. Again, as with the opener, Cantrall lays in the weeds deferring solo space to his auspicious mates before striding up to the mic and delivering with great self-assuredness. "Shanice", a college friend, must be a sultry being if she's anything like what Cantrall has written. His 'bone takes the lead here, mapping out a fond remembrance. Cantrall's writing was aided and abetted by some very effective harmony lessons Jimmy Heath delivered to him one summer at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. "Jimmy Heath really deserves the credit; he showed me how to harmonize with this tune." "Torrent" is one of the disc's high points. The briskness with which Cannon manipulates his bass strings in the intro assures listeners of the assertive attitude to follow. Dillard steps out first, plotting his course with appropriate cunning. Coleman's drum break is concise and full of youthful fire. Track six is another of Cantrall's soulful lines in the Messengers tradition. "On the bridge I added a bar so it was more fun to solo over; it had an attitude so I named it "Like I Said". "After You" is an optimistic Cole Porter tune, a variation on the theme of moving on after the love has gone. "Halfway House", an abode Cantrall has never entered, is nonetheless an appropriately circumspect line. Cannon's rich bass solo further enhances the mood of the piece. "Maker's", delivered in two different tempos, has a happy blues attitude and Cantrall wastes little time grabbing a big slice for himself. Dillard's full toned-solo serves the line beautifully and the ever-ready Irby eases up behind the tenorist to extend the conversation, buoyed by the horns riffing and carrying over to Kisor's pithy commentary. The second or bonus take is delivered at a more relaxed tempo. "Tangerine" closes the session and is the other non-original here. "I first heard "Tangerine" on a Dexter Gordon recording of the same name, but I wrote this arrangement and it seemed like a good closer." Delivered at a snappier than usual tempo, appropriately Bill gets busy immediately, setting the pace for Irby's quicksilver solo, followed by Kisor, Dillard, and Germanson. The evergreen caps off a date that proves the democratic nature of Bill Cantrall, who throughout skillfully parses out the solos on a record where economy is paramount, no one over-solos, and there is ample storytelling on this fine debut. Undoubtedly this record is also destined to be favored by real jazz radio. Willard Jenkins is a contributor to Down Beat; JazzTimes; and Jazzwise magazines and WWOZ radio in New Orleans.
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