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Big City Circus by Joel Yennoir Trio

Big City Circus is one of those recordings that defies expectations in more ways than one. Looking at the bass-less trio instrumentation, I assumed this CD was going to be dominated by free-ish or avant-garde type sounds. This turned out not to be the case. Yennoir, best known for his work with Boston's great little big band, The Either/Orchestra, and his trio – while certainly on the quirky side – essentially maintain a reserved, swinging sound throughout “Big City Circus.” Yennoir's sound on the trombone also defies expectations. Though he can definitely do the big, blowsy, ballsy, blasting trombone thing, Yennoir's a master technician whose control in the upper registers of the horn is nothing short of remarkable. The members of his trio also prove to be pretty talented in their own right. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer makes it all possible – with his phenomenal playing, he manages to perform both the lead and rhythm parts while subtly filling in enough of the bass part to the point where you will want to re-examine the CD's tray card just to make sure there isn't a bass credit on there somewhere. Drummer Gary Fieldman is a sensitive and adept player who, like Hofbauer, manages to drive the tempos and fill out the trio's sound without overplaying or underplaying.

Big City Circus features several unusual cover tunes in addition to Yennior's original compositions. 'Gallop's Gallop' is a trickily tuneful and rarely-performed Monk tune, played with consummate swinging ease, while Ran Blake's episodic, chamber-jazz piece 'Breakthru' is perhaps the most outside tune on the CD. The Bachrach – David piece, 'A House Is Not A Home' gets a lovely straight-aheadish ballad treatment, and Manuel Ponce's 'Estrellita' – famously covered by Charlie Parker towards the end of his career – gets rearranged for trio and winds up sounding a bit like Abdullah Ibrahim's 'African Marketplace.'

Yennior's originals display a wry sense of humor and a unique musical outlook. The irresistibly swinging 'Dancing Dave' has an interesting stop-and-go theme. I really enjoyed the trio's attention to detail on this one, especially where Hofbauer and Fieldman deftly change the flow of the piece at the beginning of Hofbauer's solo. The centerpiece of the CD is the 'Justice Lost' suite, inspired by Yennior's experiences as a juror in a murder trial. The first section, 'Blood On The Street,' is a minor-keyed rubato lament in the tradition of Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman.' Yennior's trombone improvisation is especially poignant here. Yennior switches to the plunger mute for 'Blues of Justice Lost' – a tough, taut blues that has interesting tempo changes, a fine guitar solo from Hofbauer, and a hint of a New Orleans funeral march feel to it. The final section, 'Big City Circus,' is my favorite. Rhythmically, it's a unique mash-up of Second Line and tango rhythms while the melody and structure are somewhat Threadgill-esque, and wouldn't be out of place on an old Air record. Whatever the tune's origins, it brings out the best in all three players. Big City Circus is a impressive recording debut by an up-and-coming jazz trombonist who deserves your attention.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joel Yennoir Trio
  • CD Title: Big City Circus
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Brass Wheel Music
  • Rating: Three Stars
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