The list of name-famous trombonists pales in length to that of other instrumentalists. Aside from the recent renown of Trombone Shorty, one has to reach back to jazz players Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson to find names that truly rise above the title. But numerous trombonists, as both featured players and ensemble members, have provided key solos and accompaniment, and gained fame among those paying attention to the musicians They often become hugely important in the careers of those they backed and integral parts of musical movements.
British trombonist Chris Barber began playing in groups in the mid-50s, blowing ragtime, swing and blues, and it was here that he met vocalist Lonnie Donegan. It was with Donegan that Barber would ignite the skiffle craze with their cover of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line.” Barber continued to play trad jazz, even as he was bookingUKtours for American blues artists and providing them backing, as can be heard here in his featured spots with Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and James Cotton. Over the years, Barber also played with the cream of British blues musicians, including Eric Clapton and Rory Gallagher. The latter found Barber playing bass, rather than trombone, against Gallagher’s hard-twanging guitar and gruff vocal.
Proper’s 2-CD set collects tracks from 1959 dates with McGhee through more recent sessions with Mark Knopfler, Jeff Healey and Jools Holland, and knits them together with track note memories by Barber himself. Barber came of age as a musician at the center ofBritain’s musical revolution, and has stayed connected and vital for more than fifty years, making this a rich document of a journey that traveled from influenced to influencer. Barber was much more than a backing (or even solo) instrumentalist; as a band leader and promoter he served as a conduit for the blues, giving the British scene direct contact with their American counterparts and forbearers.
As a trombonist, Barber is adept both at providing sensitive backing riffs and mixing it up with vocalists, guitarists and other instrumentalists. The small combo take of “Weeping Willow” and an audience tape of “Kansas City” show how easily Barber moved from background to foreground, keeping pace with the guitar riffs of Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters. Among the sets greatest surprises is a hot organ-jazz tune recorded with Keith Emerson in 1966, with David Leighton and a tight rhythm section staying with Emerson’s Jimmy McGriff-styled organ and Barber’s trombone. Barber’s led a musical career that’s made him a historian by virtue of the history he’s lived, and this two-disc set (with 24-page booklet) provides a fine overview of his travels. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]