The Color of Angels, an engaging album by trombonist Doug Scarborough's sextet, blends music with a jazz heart and Middle Eastern temperament. Scarborough, who teaches at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, has worked toward expanding the jazz idiom to encompass rhythms and harmonies from countries and regions not usually associated with the music.
The endeavor's fruits can be heard and appreciated on Angels, wherein he enlists the talents of violinist Akram Abdulfattah and Mustafa Boztüy who plays the darbuka, a Middle Eastern drum/percussion instrument whose origins can be traced to Egypt and is widely used in Turkey and Arabic countries.
To underline his bona fides, Scarborough wrote and arranged each of the album's nine selections, which certainly lean sharply, both rhythmically and harmonically, toward the Middle East while retaining the essential components of western jazz. Part of the reason for this is that Scarborough, even when exploring the music of other countries, still plays jazz trombone, and does so quite well. That's true whether he is playing alone or morphing into a "trombone choir," as, for instance, on the shapely "Arabesque," robust "You Are Brave Enough" or dynamic "Color of Angels." Meanwhile, Scarborough's teammates—Abdulfattah, Boztuy, pianist Jeremy Siskind, bassist Damian Erskine, drummer Reinhardt Melz—quickly and easily settle into a similar groove, lending the enterprise an aura of naturalness and authenticity.
While Boztuy's darbuka isn't decisive, it certainly makes a difference, providing rhythmic direction and clarity and serving as an indelible adjunct to Melz's assertive drums (Boztuy is especially busy on the closing "Source of the Longest River"). Siskind's limber piano is invariably astute and reassuring, Abdulfattah's violin adds weight on several numbers, and Erskine proves an able soloist whenever his name is called. Melodically and rhythmically, Scarborough is well-versed in the Middle Eastern design, as he is in western jazz, and uses that expertise on The Color of Angels to blend the seemingly adversarial forms into a bright and pleasurable listening experience.