Thursday, September 7, 2017

Bob Dowell slides into Mississippi

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 1:14 PM

click to enlarge Bob Dowell
  • Bob Dowell
Jazz releases are few and far between from Memphis, let alone Mississippi, so Bob Dowell's Mississippi Slide!, arriving for general consumption on September 12th, immediately caught my eye. Even better, one listen made it clear that this was no jam band claiming to be fusion with a jumble of lightning runs over looping grooves. This is music steeped in the classic sounds of hard bop of the 1960s, combining the harmonic innovations of bebop with a groovier, earthier sound rooted in blues, soul, and R&B. It is a sound that has aged very well.

Trombonist Dowell is an interesting cat. Hailing from the United Kingdom, he plied his trade for years as a session man, arranger, and composer in and around London. Accruing a list of credits as long as your arm, including performances at the Royal Albert Hall and Jools Holland's Later, he worked the scene there, chiefly playing ska, reggae, salsa, and African music. But jazz was always his first love. And when he relocated to Greenville, Mississippi two years ago, that's what he wanted to focus on.

Dowell wasted no time in finding kindred spirits. For this record, he assembled the cream of the Memphis crop: Tony Thomas on Hammond B3, Art Edmaiston on tenor sax, Tim Goodwin on bass, and Tom Lonardo on drums. All of them sound right at home in the original compositions. Dowell's touchstones are Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, and trombone master J.J. Johnson, and the band does these forerunners justice. The playing is inventive, ensemble-based, and musical. Following the traditions of hard bop, the melodic head of each tune is clear as a bell, with solos grooving and breathing over Dowell's intriguing changes.

Dowell says he's right at home in Greenville, and these soulful, swinging compositions make that clear. The title track rides moodily over Thomas' deep organ chords, with especially fluid soloing from Dowell. "Crawdaddy Blues" could be the product of Jimmy Smith going fishing down south. But it may be the heartfelt ballad “Southern Skies” that expresses his new roots the most. With broad, open brush strokes, it paints a lazy expanse of Delta landscape.

If only there were more venues to hear this classic jazz in our city...but never fear, lovers of live jazz: Dowell will be leading a quintet in a week's time, at the E.E. Bass Auditorium in Greenville at 7:30 pm – well worth the trip.
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