This album is ripe with personality. Every cut evokes the aura of its leader, veteran trombonist Benny Powell. And each cut is different from the one that came before it. With a flexible crew that can navigate some second-line, swing, blues, samba and all things (light) Latin jazz, Nextep
doesn't hit you over the head with amazing displays of virtuosity. Instead, the underlying group presence and unpretentious nature of the program stays with the listener after repeated plays.
There are nice interludes where we get some peeks into chops, as when bassist Essiet Essiet plucks away on the serene Latin-esque ballad "A Single Tear Of Remembrance." Along with Essiet, Pwell brings along old friend Billy Hart on drums, who plays a typically understated but solid role. Also helping navigate the various styles are Powell mainstays pianist Sayuri Goto and saxophonist TK Blue.
Of the 10 cuts here, Powell contributes one, the lilting, soft-spoken "You Got It," a song simple in design, and affecting with little touches like when Blue (on tenor) shadows Powell on the theme statement. The other nine are also originals, eight of which are written by Blue or Goto. Just when one might think this is a quiet program, the band throws in some danceable, bouncy township-inspired material, such as the folksy "The Caribbean Express."
The simple, direct nature of this recording at first strikes one as an uninspired, uneventful outing. Indeed there is little going on here that hasn't been heard before. However, with this combination of players and repertoire, we get something worth listening to. Maybe, the personality is the band, and not just Powell. ***1/2