AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
Press Release… original
TCB II – The Tony Campbell Band
Tony Campbell – alto sax
Sonny Barbato – piano
Delano “Volcano” Choy – trumpet
Lou Stellute – tenor sax
Greg Humphries – drums
Mark Strickland – guitar (Ask Me Now, T.C.’s Groove, Rain at the Game)
Dwayne Dolphin – bass (‘Cause Mama Said, Lastrane, Mr. C., Cinder Cone, Lou Sweeter tune
From the opening riff of Lastrane my foot was patting and I knew I was in for a bluesy, swinging, modern edition of hard bop presented confidently and tastily by a consortium of veteran new-bloods under the leadership of an immensely gifted leader, composer, arranger – alto saxophonist, Tony Campbell. The musicians hover around the forty-ish age bracket except for bassist, Paul Thompson, almost a generation younger but notably experienced as the bassist in the final incarnation of Stanley Turrentine’s group, and Lou Stellute, who stretches experientially almost 20 years in the senior direction. Their collective experience in the language and tradition of jazz as spoken by the natives is evident enough to speak for itself through each individual’s personal style. You can hear the listening history in their playing that enables them to hear each other with understanding and rapport that affords the CD the feeling of a session at a venerated jazz club minus the applause and audience interaction with the players. You can add that yourself. The ideas are fresh, inventive, sophisticated and funky and they tell a story with each tune throughout the ensembles and solos. It is refreshing to hear a new recording that knows how to convey the deeper levels of blues-based interpretation and writing without sounding contrived. These cats can blow and they enjoy what they are saying to each other.
Lastrane is a basic 16-bar blues motif in C minor with an unusual 12 – 16 – 8 – 12 – 12 – 16 – beat structure (or if you prefer a 7-5-3-7 bar structure) to the opening theme underpinned by a contrapuntal C pedal riff that provides its Coltranesque flavor and allows Greg Humphries to tip his hat to Elvin Jones on the ending vamp. Campbell solos first, demonstrating his ability to play inside and outside with equal inventiveness and facility. Though he has a proclivity for 16th notes, they are always tasteful and swinging and he does not fumble but hears every note he plays. Barbado follows with a blithe and bluesy solo, full of colors, nimble single-note runs and plenty of space for his message to breathe as it dances into your ears. Intriguingly the trumpet and tenor are heard only on the bridge-like 3 bars of the opening and closing theme. Campbell dedicates this composition to his late friend, pianist Kenny Kirkland.
‘Cause Mama Said is a showcase for bassist Dwayne Dolphin with the three horns providing background shouts behind his funky pizzicato melody. Campbell again takes off on a bluesy solo that is well-punctuated with all the aspects of a well-told story that makes its entire point in one chorus, a tribute to his experience and maturity as a player. Stellute follows with his own story that is also quite a fascinating storyline told in one chorus proving that he has definitely had encounters with the blues in real life. Barbado expounds quite a tale on this one and I am sure you will find his story interesting. Dolphin takes over, laying frantically for a spell before cooling down to his gut and restarting the theme. Whatever they are talking about here must be a downright, dirty shame. The chord changes, borrowed from Bobby Timmons’ hit Moanin’, underscore the feelings they conveyed so musically.
They wax a bit mellow with the ballad, Ask Me Now, a Thelonius Monk chestnut. This track introduces guitarist Mark Strickland on the CD to augment the rhythm section of Barbado, Thompson and Humphries. Campbell takes flight on this one from the very beginning demonstrating his ability to float like a butterfly through a matrix of intricate harmonies without tripping or overlooking the beauty in Monk’s writing. Guitarist Strickland provides a soothing accompaniment for Barbado’s thoughtful piano solo before taking over at the bridge with his own lilting solo. Thompson shares a turn at the wheel of Monk’s vehicle with a nimble pizzicato solo before turning it back over to Campbell at the bridge for the drive home.
As bluesy as they play, they demonstrate their true boplicity on Thelonius Monk and Kenny Clarke’s Epistrophy with a bright and clever 7/4 time interpretation. This is a quartet again with alto, piano, drums and Thompson on bass. Campbell, who in my opinion often plays on the inside edge of Eric Dolphy, flies and dances all over this one with harmonic and rhythmic expertise. He definitely commands his instrument and makes it do his bidding with reverent obedience as they morph into 4/4 time and back to 7/4 again. Barbado is equally light on his feet with a relaxed yet intense statement setting the stage for the ever-ebullient Humphries to present a short but explosive solo in 7/4 time. Returning to 7/4 for the out-chorus like a well-oiled machine, they keep the flow going right up to the sudden stop at cliff’s edge.
T.C.’s Groove seems to be saying, “Someone Pass the Peas please!” Is this a hard bop group or a down-home funk-dance band? Mark Strickland seems to have subpoenaed the group to testify whether or not they “got the funk.” From the sound of this track they are all guilty as charged. As a matter of fact, they might be James Brown refugees in hiding. Whatever groove they are wearing, they certainly wear it in the proper style. You can smell the greens and fried chicken on this cut. If your mouth waters for more, try licking your fingers or else just play it again. Campbell demonstrates his versatility in a tip of his hat to his friend, Maceo Parker.
Campbell, an avid sports fan, breaks out his soprano sax for this smooth jazz original, Rain at the Game. To keep busy working as a musician, one must be able to master a variety of styles. The shift in instrumental timbres to electric bass and electric piano and the head-shaking sophistication of the groove they achieve ranks with the best fare ever put out by Grover Washington, Jr., David Sanborn, etc. The composition uses pretty chord changes and memorable melodic hooks that will cause you to replay this one in your mind in pensive moments without the benefit of the CD itself.
Mr. C. is an energetic 12-bar blues riff with a stop-time theme for the first 8 bars resolving into a slick, hard bop downward chromatic pattern for the last 4 bars. There seems to be no end to the variety of ways to play the blues and the Tony Campbell Band most definitely shows they can take care of business on both sides of the railroad tracks. Mark Strickland shines on this one with a solo that glides from deep blues roots to the inner-city slicks. Campbell, always in command, takes over and rides this one home after a blizzard of a solo on his alto. He definitely has his own voice and knows his way around the instrument with an ease that lets him make his point concisely whenever he is in the spotlight. His ability to say mush in a chorus or two speaks well of his big band experience as a lead altoist. Too many new generation players want to be soloists without learning to play ensemble, ignoring the fact that the greatest soloists of the tradition were also the greatest section players.
All three horns join together on Choy’s Cinder Cone, a pure hard bop excursion that exhibits refreshing originality of composition and mastery of the more modal genre of the hard bop tradition complete with glowing ensemble motifs. The musicians are as comfortable here as anywhere and continue to play without cliche’ ridden licks as too often occurs in recent recordings by school-generated newcomers. These players have considerable front-line experience playing for sophisticated live audiences and it shows throughout the recording.
It has been written by many and said by many more that a large percentage of the post-modern boppers do not speak the vernacular of the language as was common in the 1960s. Lou Sweeter’s Tune, on the contrary, will take you back through the time tunnel to that glorious era where audiences lined up for blocks outside the Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh and the Vanguard in NYC to hear the latest sermon by the groups who played regularly in those venues. The secret is that back in the day recording bands were the same bands that were touring the Chittlin’ Circuit, perfecting their repertoire before entering the studio, enabling them to bring the same excitement into the studio from the bandstand the night before. TCB II achieves this same result because the musicians represented here have played together regularly in clubs for years with each other, grown up musically together or been co-mentored by the same masters in the field. You hear all three horns stretch out on this tune leaving no doubt in your mind that the TCB II – Tony Campbell Band ‘Takes care of bidness” and deserves much R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Nelson E. Harrison, Ph. D.
Composer, lyricist, author, trombonist veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra