"Virtuoso trombonist Alain Trudel composed the title track of this album, Jericho’s Legacy, to state his allergy to sectarian and artificial barriers that divide music, both between and within genres. The image involves Joshua blowing his horns and the walls come tumbling down. In fact, reference to Jericho is not quite appropriate to his intention. Joshua and his troops, the Book of Judges tells us, proceeded to slaughter every man, women, child and beast in Jericho. In Joshua’s place, Trudel would have negotiated a reasonable peace, capped by a festival where each side proudly shared its cultural wares.
Trudel’s story is that of a young jazz musician who unexpectedly and very rapidly emerged as one of the foremost trombone virtuosos in classical music. Born in 1966 to jazz musician parents from Montreal’s struggling, blue collar East End, he was thirteen when he first picked up the trombone in a community band. Both economic circumstances and the music imbibed from birth propelled him to professional gigs by the age of fifteen. Simultaneously, Trudel commenced classical training at the Conservatoire de Montreal in order to improve his chops, and the faculty quickly realized that they had a wunderkind on hand.
Only two years later, Trudel was hired by one of the world’s élite classical ensembles, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The Orquesta Ciutat Barcelona lured him away in 1986 to serve as their first trombonist, but he resigned this comfortable position to pursue a musical mission: transforming the trombone from its traditional background rôle into a major solo instrument. One marker of Trudel’s progress towards this goal is his recent Naxos recording, Classical Trombone Concertos, which received a coveted 5-star rating from BBC Music Magazine.
The new passion for classical music equalled but did not replace jazz. Trudel’s public performances of jazz have been less frequent than classical due to circumstance rather than desire. First, Trudel is allergic to tobacco and few clubs followed the non-smoking policy established by Chicago’s Jazz Showcase. Second, invitations to perform classical music flowed in and Trudel had a family to feed.
Trudel works in two musical worlds that have lamentably slender exchanges. His own music is another matter. Wearing his classical hat, Trudel sees Thelonious Monk as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Period. A person holding this view is not a person worried about musical orthodoxies or labels. He will play jazz his way.
Life in the classical world enhances Trudel’s jazz. In the first decades of this century, innovations by jazz trombonists sparked some of Europe’s major composers to create new sounds and functions for the classical trombone. In recent decades, contemporary classical trombone innovations have been streaming back into jazz. By bridging two musical worlds, Trudel masters just about anything that has been done on trombone, as well as comes up with ideas of his own.
But sheer musicality, more than his formidable technical mastery, counts most in Trudel’s playing. First, an exceptional sense of musical structure enables great classical soloists to interpret works in ways that distinguish them from the merely excellent. This capacity serves Trudel well as a Jazz improviser. Second, Trudel’s hard-won, eminently beautiful sound persists even when engaged in dissonance and beyond.
Trudel’s jazz quartet has played together for seven years. It is a labour of love between four musicians on the same wavelength. Each leads his own group. The quartet functions by consensus between equals. They discovered each other in the musical cauldron of the "Paris of North America," Montreal. In fact, a more apt term for this bi-cultural, multi-racial and wide-open port city, with its vivid jazz history, would be the "New Orleans of the North."
Now based in New York, pianist John Stetch encountered Trudel while training at McGill University. Stetch is respected both as the pianist for TANAREID, and via his own recordings as a leader. Trudel considers Stetch the finest jazz pianist of his generation. Bassist Eric Lagac*, Trudel’s colleague from conservatory days, is a musician’s musician in Montreal, eagerly hired by both jazz and classical ensembles.
By contrast, Jim Hillman came up through the older school of mentoring. Arriving in Montreal as a rhythm-and-blues drummer during the final years of the city’s African-Canadian club scene, he discovered jazz and threw himself into learning-by-doing. Hillman’s group, The Merlin Factor, garnered Canada’s Juno Award for best jazz recording in 1994.
The quartet’s playing is inspired but not dictated by the Second Miles Davis Quintet of 1965-68, which produced the magnificent Miles Smiles. The second quintet drew lessons from free jazz, even if that was a road they did not wish to follow themselves. While Trudel has played free jazz, he personally finds it too unstructured. He prefers the way Miles’second quintet ventured out from previous bop harmonies, rhythms and forms precisely because they had these structures firmly in mind. There is special admiration for the way musical structures are often implicit rather than explicit.
In the 1990s, young musicians inspired by the spirit of the second quintet will sound different than Miles and company. Trudel’s quartet brings three new decades to the table, both from within and outside of jazz. It is music created by incremental but persistent innovation.
The album commences with three compositions by Trudel, followed by his rearrangements of three Monk classics. Pay particular attention to Trudel’s multiphonic tour de force on ‘Round Midnight.
Then Trudel’s two-part Jericho suite begins with Tumbling Walls initial percussion tone poem, followed by four trombones playing in chorus: the first voice recorded in real time with Hillman, plus three overdubbed voices. A bass solo opens Jericho’s Legacy. After the quartet states the theme, Trudel’s solo and the piano-bass duet are the album’s best statements of their highly personal jazz styles. A second percussion solo then leads into a restatement of the theme.
For Trudel, stretching established structures does not imply consigning older approaches to the history books. On some pieces, you may feel like going back to ground base. So he follows the Jericho suite with an ebullient, thoroughly boppish romp through one of the genre’s finest anthems, Anthropology."
(Phil Ehrensaft, Scena Musicale)