Trombonist Steve Turre Regales With Tales of Shells and Bones
“ When it comes to concepts, the trombonist is drawn to finding a true sound or perhaps, more accurately, truthful sound. ”
To look at the résumé of Steve Turre is to see a list of jazz's leading figures of the past 40 years. The trombonist got his start with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1970. From there, he quickly moved on to a flurry of people (including Van Morrison) before landing a Ray Charles world tour in 1972. He then went on to Art Blakey, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Woody Shaw, Chico Hamilton, Cedar Walton, Elvin Jones and, eventually, the 'Saturday Night Live' band in 1984. Later came Ruben Blades and Tito Puente, Lester Bowie, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and many, many others.
According to the leader and first-call sideman, it's under these masters and amongst others that it all came together for him as a musician. You learn the basics, like scales, in school," he explains. The expression part, the language, is difficult to learn in school. You have to learn that on the bandstand by playing with people who speak that language. I learned to read and write and play at a certain level, but I learned how to play on the bandstand."
Since the early '80s he's also led his own bands including the Sanctified Shells, a large group that explores Turre's love of playing conch shells. He now returns with 'Delicious and Delightful,' his 15th album as a leader. Like his other albums, it features a top-flight band, in this case saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist Larry Willis, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Dion Parsons.
It's really about people with similar concepts," Turre, 62, says of this band. We all play off the feeling. There's a broad spectrum in ages in the band, with Larry and Billy being older than I am. Dion is younger than I am, and Corcoran is even younger than him. He's in his 20s, and he's one of the rare examples someone that age who plays with feeling. But at the same time he can think."
When it comes to concepts, the trombonist is drawn to finding a true sound or perhaps, more accurately, truthful sound. The question is whether your thinking is motivated by the feeling, or is it motivated by the desire to be different just so you can get attention for being different. For him that's the deciding factor for how it is perceived and how it feels.
It's this quest that also led him to conch shells, with the encouragement of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, early on. According to Turre, I started playing shells in 1970. People were playing shells before they were playing trombone or trumpet, but you produce the sound the same way with your lips. The shell and the animal horn are the roots of brass instruments. When I heard the shell for the first time, the tone quality, the sound was beautiful."
Listeners can hear the fruits of his love of shells immediately on the 'Delicious and Delightful' opener, 'Light Within,' which is one of two tunes here written by Harper. Here, Turre moves quickly to three different shells before Harper and Turre on trombone jump in for the playful main melody. From there, the two horns reconvene for another mind-melding part on the revamped Turre original 'Duke Rays,' which is a tip of the hat to Duke Ellington.
When asked about the great one-two combo that he and Harper make, the trombonist is quick to point out that the chemistry is based on a long common history the two have. We both played with each other in the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones orchestra, but we've also played in a lot of the same bands at different times," he says. We both played with Art Blakey and Max Roach. We played separately and together with McCoy [Tyner]."
Russell Malone steps to the fore on two 'D and D' songs, as well. On the bluesy boogaloo-driven title track, he offers the opening salvo before the song jumps into gear, then helps drive the funky groove to the end. He also adds a stinging solo on the new version of 'Ray's Collard Greens,' a bluesy closing jam Turre first wrote for and recorded with Ray Charles some years back.
By the time the song comes to a close, it leaves little question about how fun this album must have been to make. But for Turre it's just another day at the office, albeit a great one. I'm just recording my working band, capturing the chemistry that it has," Turre says matter-of-factly. Billy and I have been working together for quite a few years and I've never recorded this particular project, so it was time." And not a moment too soon.