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The Louisiana Weekly

Taking the Plunge, by Geraldine Wyckoff

In New Orleans, the trombone boasts respect while in many spots around  the country jokes about the instrument continue to abound. There are websites devoted solely to ribbing the ‘bone and its purveyors. Here, the trombone remains a mainstay in our lives standing tall in marching bands, brass bands, big bands and traditional jazz ensembles. It bumps up R&B horn sections, steps out on funk  and has found a place on the modern jazz scene. We know its potential.

On his new disc, Dancing on Thin Ice, Mark McGrain strongly demonstrates all of the trombone’s tonal and rhythmic possibilities. His use of a simple, drumless trio dubbed Plunge — with New Orleans powerhouses saxophonist Tim Green and bassist James Singleton – make these latent variances that much more distinctive.

While the material here, which  comes entirely from McGrain’s imaginative pen, could certainly be considered creative or free jazz, it holds elements that makes it altogether accessible and musical. Singleton kicks things off laying down the rhythm with a solid bassline. The trombone and sax jump in as a team and even minus the snap of a snare or thump of a bass drum, the tune holds danceable qualities. It progresses to more outer reaches with the solos of the very able Green and McGrain. Following some trombone antics, the piece comes back to groove.

Melody plays an important part in McGrain’s writing that opens the door for some great harmonies accomplished by the trombonist and saxophonist with Singleton’s bass melodically adding to the mix. There’s an abundance of playfulness that is accomplished through a variety of means. McGrain’s unexpected leaps between the instrument’s tonal ranges and his tasteful use of the occasional electronics bring smiles.

New Orleans can be heard in the strutting attitude and McGrain’s trombone slurs on the purposely precarious title cut, “Dancing on Thin Ice.” The trombonist uses his ax as voice on “The Praise Singer” making the instrumental number  sound as if it actually has words.

Dancing on Thin Ice is brilliant in its completeness.

By: Geraldine Wyckoff, Contributing Writer, The Louisiana Weekly



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