Odd instruments in jazz: pedal steel guitar, theremin, the Samchillian (You'll have to trust me on this one. Its formal" name is the Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeee." Don't believe me? Look it up), the harmonica, the human voice (if you're Shooby Taylor or Mike Patton), the saw blade. Some of these instruments are not odd" so much as they are rare. If you look at the total number of jazz recordings out there, the percentage of them featuring the harmonica is pretty small. That will of course not stop me from enjoying my Toots Thielemans and Gregoire Maret records.
Steve Turre's main instrument is the trombone, and his resume there is long and impressive. Here's the short list: Lester Bowie, Art Blakey, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Dexter Gordon, Pharoah Sanders. In his own ensembles, Turre's playing style carries the histories of Jack Teagarden and J.J. Johnson while bringing modern sensibilities and hints of his salsa roots.
Where Turre really made his mark was when he began to incorporate sea shells into the music. My first encounter with him was with the 1993 album Sanctified Shells. It's a stunning recording that puts the focus on the warm tones of the shells, spiced with plenty of percussion. I was hooked.
On Delicious and Delightful, Turre puts much of his history on display as well as some soulful conch shell magic. Often, it is the surprising juxtaposition of these things that perks up the ear. On the opening Light Within," Turre plays a long introduction using three different shells. This segment morphs into the head and then shoots off in another direction as tenor saxophonist Billy Harper shatters the aural space with a blistering solo.
What is not surprising are the nice grooves that result when guitarist Russell Malone enters the picture. The title track is a blues vamp that leads to some particularly hot solos. On the closing Ray's Collard Greens," originally written for Ray Charles (see Turre's album In The Spur Of The Moment), Malone takes a solo that gives way to the trombone, piano, and then the shells. I guess I had forgotten what Turre can do with these things because he ends up going all Rahsaan on us, with multiple tones being sounded, shaking with passion. Really great stuff.
There are many hilights here (and more reveal themselves every day) but to my ears you can't beat the burning Cherokee-on-steroids of Blackfoot" and the off-kilter shuffle of Dance of the Gazelles." The former tune features what sounds like a deconstructed Cherokee," introduced in quickly passing fragments, followed by the most intense solos of the program. Turre takes the second spot of just leans into it. The latter composition kicks off with a wicked little vamp featuring just percussion and bass. The piano then enters with a nervous ostinato the seals the groove for the solos to come. The liner notes state that the rhythm being used is the African 6." The interactions that spin out of it are just crackling energy. At one point the horns drop back to let the rhythm section push the groove, a terrific device because when Billy Harper reenters, you not only hear it, you feel it.
You might think that using shells in a jazz context is a little hokey, a kind of jazz parlor trick. One listen to this album and you'll be convinced that Steve Turre is as serious as your life. After we come to an agreement on that, maybe we can sit down and talk about the Samchillian.