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Not a Novelty

by Jennifer Wharton's Bonegasm

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1.
BonGasmo 04:45
2.
Face Value 06:13
3.
Ice Fall 06:36
4.
Blue Salt 07:38
5.
Union Blues 05:47
6.
Twinkle 05:53
7.
Manta Rays 09:51
8.
La Otra Mano 05:33
9.
10.

about

24 bit / 96k

Bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton might be considered by many as a unicorn in the world of music. In decades from the not-too-distant past, it was a rarity to even have a woman in prominent jazz bands and orchestras, but to have a bass trombone-slinging woman as leader was thought extraordinary. In efforts to highlight her perceived position as a rara avis, Wharton took it upon herself to not only raise the profile of women instrumentalists but also that of her chosen horn (and its smaller cousins).

In 2019, Wharton presented her trombone-powered ensemble, Bonegasm, via its self-titled debut album (Sunnyside SSC-1529). Wharton enlisted fellow trombonists John Fedchock, Nate Mayland and Alan Ferber, along with the rhythm section of pianist Michael Eckroth, bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Don Peretz. The music performed included originals and arrangements the leader commissioned from prominent composers she knew as well as members of the ensemble.

The overwhelming response to Bonegasm’s music was astounding, cementing Wharton’s assertion that this assemblage was no flash in the pan but an important exponent of shaping the trombone’s primacy in jazz music. Bonegasm’s new recording, Not a Novelty, wears its intentions on its sleeve, or perhaps more appropriately, tattooed on its arm.

Wharton has spent a good deal of time developing her jazz chops in the period since the initial release. Trying to break the tradition of the bass trombone’s relegation to supportive roles in most ensembles, Wharton began a solid study of jazz and improvisation. She also demanded that the pieces commissioned for Bonegasm feature the bigger horn in some fashion; she was impressed by what composers and arrangers could do when they used their imaginations.

Not a Novelty sprang from the pandemic of COVID-19 in the States, essentially as a way to keep Wharton engaged in a project with a purpose. A beneficial grant from the New York City Women’s Fund ensured that the commissions and recording could take place without any hitches outside of the physical limitations of social distancing for rehearsals and recording.

Once the pieces were received, there was a remote rehearsal utilizing MIDI recordings and click tracks before two socially distanced outdoor performances with the band. The entire ensemble, apart from one performer who was overdubbed later, met at Big Orange Sheep Recording Studio in Brooklyn in late September 2020 for a recording session with increased physical isolation among all involved.

The compositions for this project were commissioned from a variety of sources; all composers Wharton had worked with and felt a mutual level of musical simpatico that would befit her ensemble. There was an obvious evolution in the music, as many of the composers contributed especially challenging pieces, testing the band’s skills. Bonegasm accepted the challenges with relish.

The recording begins with Orquesta Akokán pianist Michael Eckroth’s “Bongasmo,” a Cuban inflected piece (amplified by the addition of percussionist Samuel Torres) that highlights the trombone’s prominence in the music of the Latin diaspora, a world Wharton knew well from her early years in the Latin-inflected music scene of her home state of California. Wharton met composer/saxophonist Remy Le Bouef through his large ensemble and welcomed his “Face Value,” a richly varied piece that provides ample solo space for Wharton, Ferber and Peretz. Alan Ferber’s arrangement of Chris Cheek’s “Ice Fall” is the most traditionally structured piece, with its lush harmonies and feature space for each ensemble member.

It was only natural for Wharton to reach out to her long-time friend Ayn Inserto for “Blue Salt,” a playful, swinging, yet complex, piece that alludes to Inserto’s first margarita infused meeting with Wharton’s husband, Fedchock. Wharton’s brash horn introduces Ferber’s “Union Blues,” all swagger and offbeat charm, while Fedchock’s arrangement of Tori Amos’s “Twinkle” takes the singer’s minimalist performance and expands it into a lush ballad, where the arranger takes a breath-taking solo feature. Wharton was so impressed by Carmen Staaf’s arrangements for a Litchfield Jazz Festival performance that she invited her to write for the ensemble. Her “Manta Rays” is an aural illustration of the sea’s hooded dancer.

The group launches into a Latin tinge once again on Manuel Valera’s dancing “La Otra Mano.” Fedchock’s moving “Little Cupcake” takes its name from his pet name for Wharton and compliments her personality with moments of brashness and subtlety, but always with an element of humor. The recording concludes with an angsty edge on Darcy James Argue’s arrangement of legendary grunge band Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried To Live.” The brilliant, punctuated performance is enhanced by the inclusion of Grammy winning vocalist, Kurt Elling.

Jennifer Wharton looks at Not a Novelty as a needed return. Not only did she productively utilize the time that an unprecedented circumstance presented to her, but she also took the opportunity to promote the advancement of trombone led music in the jazz canon, a task that should be celebrated and not just by unicorns.



With support from: the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in association with the New York Foundation for the Arts.

credits

released April 23, 2021

John Fedchock - trombone
Nate Mayland - trombone
Alan Ferber - trombone
Jennifer Wharton - bass trombone
Michael Eckroth - piano, Fender Rhodes
Evan Gregor - bass
Don Peretz - drums
Samuel Torres - percussion (1 & 8)
Kurt Elling - voice (10)

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Jennifer Wharton New York, New York

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