If Benny Powell doesn't sound familiar, he should be. He's recorded memorable work with Count Basie (a classic solo on "April in Paris") and on pianist Randy Weston's African Sunrise (Polygram Records, 1992). He's also been heard in countless recordings with Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Joe Henderson, Sarah Vaughn and as part of Merv Griffin's TV show band. Certainly, Benny Powell is a versatile veteran jazz man.
On Nextep, Powell assembles an ensemble of players of diverse backgrounds and gives them a free reign, and comes up with a gem of an album.
Reedist TK Blue?who plays with Powell in Randy Weston's group?joins the trombonist in the front line, playing alto and soprano saxophones and flute. Blue penned half of Nextep's ten tunes: the New Orleans trombone oompah, marching-band romp on the opener, "Free To Be Me," the lilting South African "The Township Diary"?a tune that would fit right in on a Hugh Masekela CD?along with an exploration of his own West Indies roots on "The Caribbean Express," and "Another Blue," with the band giving off the vibe of a group of young toughs swaggering down a dark alley in a rough part of town.
Japanese-born Pianist Sayuri Goto contributes three tunes. Her composing approach is lighter than Blue's, with brighter melodies, and like Powell and Blue, she is a concise soloist, wasting no notes and saying exactly what needs to be said, with panache and style.
Powell enlists a fellow veteran, Billy Hart, to sit in the drummer's chair. Another versatile musician who has played with everyone, Hart is in quite a pound-the-skins exuberant mood on tunes "Free To Be Me" and "I Tried and Tried."
Nextep is a wonderful example of a band full of players with disparate approaches coming together and creating beautifully fresh-sounding music, with the supple-toned trombonist Benny Powell at the helm.