Review: Steve Turre's moving tribute to Trayvon Martin

The most gripping moments in trombonist Steve Turre's opening set Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase came near the end, when he unveiled a new work with a sharp social message.

Titled simply "Trayvon's Blues," the piece amounted to a lament for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old who was shot to death in Florida in February of 2012. Though Martin's killing and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder, once was a media obsession, the subject has largely disappeared from the news.

But Turre clearly remembers, his medium-slow blues packing a punch from the outset. Its declamatory lines and straightforward chord changes recalled the protest songs of Oscar Brown, Jr., albeit without words. What "Trayvon's Blues" lacked in lyrics, however, it made up for in musical content, particularly when Turre played two remarkable solos: the first with plunger mute, the second with conch shells.

Anyone who has even casually followed Turre's work through the years knows that he coaxes other worldly sounds from shells that the rest of us simply hold up to our ears. But Turre's extended cadenza on shells in "Trayvon's Blues" conveyed ferocity of expression that ranked among his most compelling work. Switching shells to catch certain pitches and colors, sometimes harmonizing with two shells at once, Turre fired off insistent phrases of ever-increasing intensity. Cries and whispers issued from his shells, while pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Greg Artry produced a shimmering blues backdrop.

Turre made this solo the major statement of the set, and its searing, sociopolitical message was impossible to miss.

"When I play that, it always takes a lot out of me," Turre told the audience, preparing to say a few words about the slain Martin.

"That was somebody's son."

With those words, Turre looked to the future, asking his own son, Orion Turre, to come to the stage. Drummer Artry stepped aside to make way for the young man, whom Steve Turre told the audience had recently graduated from college.

With the memory of "Trayvon's Blues" still in the air, trombonist Turre launched into the standard "With a Song in My Heart." Orion Turre's work on drums quickly proved that he deserved his cameo on the bandstand, and then some. A young drummer of considerable presence and self-assurance, he held his own in some rather exalted company.

Not that this was the most challenging piece of music to play, Orion Turre offering straightforward, straight-ahead swing. But within that musical language, he showed ample rhythmic drive, steadiness of tempo, control of phrase and sensitivity to tone, gesture and attack.

If he played a shade too loudly for the context, better that than the opposite. Most important, the Orion Turre counterbalanced a solid technique with a desire to make music rather than noise.

Trombonist Turre devoted the earlier portion of his set to musicians he called his "teachers," starting with trumpeter Woody Shaw. Turre performed and recorded prolifically with Shaw, and the melodic ebullience of Turre's playing in his homage to his mentor, "Woody's Delight," said a great deal about his affection for the man. So, too, Turre's account of J.J. Johnson's "Lament," which Turre fashioned as a deeply felt tribute to the man who in effect taught the trombone to play bebop.

There were no pyrotechnics here, however, Turre unspooling gorgeous lines rich in sentiment but never close to maudlin. When he affixed a Harmon mute to his horn, he crafted quirky, inventive motifs of a complexity Johnson surely would have admired.

And what a pleasure to hear Turre in such company. Pickens was all over the keyboard, as always; Gray made his bass sing; Artry turned in especially deft work with brushes.

An important statement, by any measure.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court

Admission: $20-$35; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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