A whiff of glorious, old-time New Orleans jazz in "Free to be Me" jubilantly launches Benny Powell's latest, Nextep. Yet be assured the set is no trip down nostalgia lane. A working musician since his early teens in New Orleans, bop loyalist and a veteran sideman at hundreds of recording sessions with the likes of everyone from Count Basie and Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin and "Screamin'" Jay Hawkins, at 78, Nextep is Powell's bid finally to take well-earned center stage as nonpareil trombonist and composer.
All but one of the compositions on this set are by Powell, TK Blue, his longtime alto/soprano sax and flute compatriot in Randy Weston's African Rhythms (and author of the title tune) and pianist Sayuri Goto. And what a hot, fresh horn of musical plenty they provide.
On Goto's Brazilian-flavored "Best People", Powell has a long, undulating solo. Blue and Powell trade evocative back alley sounds on Blue's noir gem, "Another Blue", as drummer Billy Hart lends a tangy backbeat. Powell and Blue give out with toasty, tasty licks on his "You Got It", which segues smoothly into Powell in a whirling duet with Goto. They're instantly
so solidly in sync it's as if her piano is pouring out of his trombone. Wait! There's more! Effortlessly, Blue
blows back in with some easy heat, only to have Goto lay down more sweet rhythmic underpinnings before
Powell caps the doings with casually piquant toots.
Powell has said he thinks this is his best CD to date. Overflowing with strong, original music, it is
absolutely first class all the way.