Steppin' out with Benny Powell.
Seventy-eight-year-old trombone master Benny Powell has had an extensive career, playing in the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. He played in the Basie band for many years, and was prominently featured in Randy Weston's African Rhythms group. Criminally under-recorded as a leader, Powell has only had three recording sessions as a group leader. His first two albums were for minor labels in 1982 and 2003.
He has finally been given the opportunity to record for a major label, Origin Records, with original compositions by his band mates. Blue and Sayuri have worked with Powell for quite a few years, and of course Essiett and Hart need no introduction. What makes this CD special is the fact that Powell's trombone is the lead instrument on many of his group member's compositions.
Free to be Me is classic New Orleans second line, and gets the CD off to a rousing start. TK swings and Powell struts - you can feel them parading down Bourbon Street and pianist Goto and bassist Essiet get in their licks. The Township Diary brings appropriately to mind South African rhythms, and TK Blue has a winning solo with Benny, Billy, and Sayuri keeping the beat simmering. Best People is a prominent track for Goto but Powell and Blue also step up. As you can see, the ensemble playing on Nextep is exemplary.
Akiha, written for Goto's niece, has brightness and happy vibes - her melodies are full of hooks. Another Blue gives TK's blues chops a workout. I Tried and Tried, composed by Benny's ex-wife, puts Benny's trombone and TK's flute playing off each other - a lovely track. TK's ballad A Single Tear of Remembrance provides each band member a chance to contribute and Billy Hart's drumming provides propulsion.
Powell's lone composition, You Got It, has a Caribbean lilt and Benny gets an extended solo. We stay on the Islands with the closer, The Caribbean Express.
There is not a weak track on Nextep! Approaching 80, Benny Powell has finally been given the opportunity to front a top-notch recording band. Step aside, super star sideman. Not too late to take the Nextep, star band leader? Thanks to Origin for letting Benny shine! ****1/2