With a debut album comprised almost entirely of standards - immediately recognizable tunes from Ellington to Shorter, Silver, and Henderson - one almost wants to say two things at once of trombonist, arranger, and composer Tim Coffman, whose Crossroads came out in September. First, for a debut album Coffman has without question been smart; he’s assembled a range of terrific songs, all of them more or less accessible, and he’s played them competently - cleanly, virtuosically. But at the same time, the album makes you want to hear a bit more from Coffman himself. He has included one original composition, the title track "crossroads," though even his arrangements are, if anything, too responsible, too deferential to the original compositions and somehow not dynamic enough this time around.
This, of course, may be overly critical. The group’s front-line is strong - with Scott Wendholt (a fixture in the Village Vanguard Orchestra) playing a crisp trumpet and Mark Colby delivering an authoritative sound on tenor and soprano sax. Mike Kocour makes up the heart of the percussion section on piano with Kelly Sill and Bob Rummage rounding out the section on bass and drums.
The group does its best work on tunes like Joe Henderson’s "Step Lightly" and Horace Silver’s "Summer in Central Park" - compositions that are both well arranged and well played here and that give the ensemble space to develop a comfortable groove all its own. "Lament" (which, with "My Old Flame," makes up part of a two song tribute to JJ Johnson) is also a high point. With these numbers, we hear Coffman most truly in his element: swinging with a kind of mature (almost conservative) composure.
And while the band doesn’t swing hard enough on Shorter’s "Yes or No" to do the piece its much deserved justice, Coffman sounds remarkably adept on "Caravan," giving the song added texture by coordinating a trombone-trumpet exchange at its outset. The move endows this oft-played standard with a counterpoint sensibility that allows for the well-grounded swing which ensues.
This is a good debut for Coffman - not quite an exciting record but far (far) from weak. Listeners will certainly not be disappointed though they, like I, will want to hear more of Coffman in the future: a voice and vision that he’ll be able to claim positively as his own.