Chicago Defenders
Wobbly Rail WOB 011

Starting in Fifties with the famous Jay & Kai combo, featuring J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, multiple trombone bands have always been quite popular. Orthodox boppers like Winding and Slide Hampton and Toronto’s Brass Connection experimented with four ‘bones or more; one of New Thinger Archie Shepp’s group showcased both Roswell Rudd and Grachan Moncur III; and Rudd has subsequently toured and recorded with fellow trombonist Steve Swell.

Still, except for Doppelmoppel, the two-guitar/two-trombone combo created by Germany’s slide stylists, the Bauer brothers, so-called avant gardists have often been more conservative in their instrumentation than in their choice of material.

Filling the void with this disc as successfully as a mute fits into a trombone bell are two younger players — American Jeb Bishop and Italian Sebi Tramontana. A members of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO), sideman of choice for everyone from veteran Italian saxophonist Mario Schiano to German pianist Georg Graewe, Tramontana sits besides pioneering free music trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini in the IIO, and has played duets with him. Never recorded in comparable dual-‘bone situations, Bishop is a longtime member of the Vandermark5. There, he has likely picked up a similar obsessive knowledge of arcane jazz — and trombone — history as its leader, reedist Ken Vandermark.

To perform naked with nothing more than a couple of mutes to hide behind, the two trombonists have to rely on a lot more than the instrument’s standard 2½-octave range and seven conventional slide positions. Overall they attain their most impressive effects, when they not only use the horn’s mutability to solo and accompany one another as brass players, but also with embouchure movements, sound repetition tricks and literal physical taps on the body, conjuring up percussion and even reed sounds.

Tramontana, who recorded a limited edition solo session, IL GIORNO DEL SANTO, a decade ago, and is a veteran duo player, knows just what tricks to slide about in a situation like this. Throughout the 13 tracks, which range in length from less than 2½ minutes to 6¾ minutes, he introduces enough diversified sounds to make it seem as if there are more players on board.

“On Einstein’s Bagel”, for instance, muted plunger wah wahs from one horn are matched by higher pitched allegro work from the other, then interrupted by split second dog-like yips. The purported scat singer gets the rhythm going for a while, with the coda made up of deep-throated rumbles from one side and shrill air blowing from the other.

“Gerph”, on the other hand, interrupts deep sonorous lines and bugle-like breaks to allow one of the trombonists to approximate a bebop line. The other joins in for a bit, then darts around the first line at lower and higher pitches to such an extent that the initial soloist phrases as if he was Johnny Griffin facing a tough tenor challenge from Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

Reed references are more than metaphoric here. For the frequent tongue clicking, aviary trills, humming and mouthpiece squalls show that the boners are attempting to approximate the note-bending freedom saxophonists take for granted. At times, one or both digs into the bass clef to emerge with an elephant-like tone closer to a bass trombone or tuba than their tenor models. Snatches of half-forgotten show tunes, one of which recalls “I Got Plenty of Nothin’” make their appearance in longer solos, probably without the two even realizing it.

Unlike eight-note-perfect bop trombonists, whose mechanized legato phrasing often gave them speed but no soul, Bishop and Tramontana relate to earlier deliberately sloppy sound makers. Subtract a few decades and the two could conceivably take the places of Kid Ory, J.C. Higginbotham or Vic Dickenson in any Swing-Dixieland combo those pioneers fronted.

More than just a wallow in the ‘bone yard, CHICAGO DEFENDERS should be of interest to anyone.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Un Caro saluto 2. Puckered Smile 3. Parasite of Music 4. Gerph 5. Slideshow 6. Einstein’s Bagel 7. All Right For Dancing 8. Che Cosa É Twee? 9. Action at a Distance 10. I Shouldn’t Be Driving 11. Windsheets 12. The Empty Lounge 13. Posaunenenden

Personnel: Jeb Bishop and Sebi Tramontana (trombones)