Trombonist Benny Powell was born in New Orleans on March 1, 1930 and died in New York on June 26, 2010. His first professional appearance was on New Year’s Day, 1944, when he was not yet fourteen years old.
He went on to play with Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Terry Gibbs, Count Basie, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, King Kolax, Benny Carter, and others, including a stint (1970-1978) on the Merv Griffin Show Band.
Although Powell appeared on dozens of albums supporting other artists (Al Grey, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Ekstine, Sammy Davis Jr., others), he only recorded four albums under his own name. The one I’m going to write about this time is his last, the 2008 Origin Records release, “Nextep”.
The personnel for “Nextep” are:
Benny Powell, trombone
T.K. Blue, flute and alto & soprano sax
Essiet Essiet, bass
Sayuri Goto, piano
Billy Hart, drums
“Nextep” opens with “Free To Be Me”, written by Blue. For the first few seconds we are treated to Powell soloing on the trombone before the rest of the group joins in. “Free To Be Me” has more than a touch of Powell’s native New Orleans. This is a happy, catchy tune that, if performed live, would definitely have the audience joining in.
The second track is another Blue composition, “The Township Diary”. Though written by the same pen, the two songs could hardly be less alike. Where “Free To Be Me” moves along in a strident, second-line type fashion, the more mellow “Township Diary” is very lyrical.
Here is an eight minute video of Powell talking about his stint with Count Basie and his orchestra.
“Best People”, the first of three songs here written by pianist Goto, is up next. Splitting the difference, this one is by turns mellow and lively. We also get to hear Goto soloing on this one, perhaps not coincidentally. It was worth the wait, short as the solo is.
“Akiha”, also by Goto, starts out with almost a big band bang before we settle down to Powell and Blue sharing the lead while the rhythm section goes a little crazy in the background. These guys complement each other well, and it’s a shame they didn’t have time to record together again.
Here is Goto, along with Powell and Blue, performing “Akiha”.
“Another Blue” opens with the composer (Blue) playing a bluesy-jazzy, mournful sounding soprano sax for an extended two minute solo before Powell steps forward and takes over. He is followed by Goto with only her second solo of the album. Then the boys return and take it to the conclusion.
“Night Never End” begins with Blue, who has set aside his sax in favor of the flute. It gives the song an eerily lyrical opening before Powell steps forward with his trombone. Then it’s Blue’s turn again, with Goto supporting. The feel is of a late night stroll when the warmth of a summer day still lingers in the air long after dark has fallen.
“I Tried And Tried” is a much livelier song than the last few. Written by someone named Petsye Powell, this song is a great vehicle for Benny Powell and his trombone. Hart’s drums and percussion are given more prominence here also, and fits in beautifully.
Benny Powell’s only composition on this album is “You Got It”, gives each of the crew their chance to shine. Powell himself stands out, of course, but not without help from Goto’s piano and Hart’s ride cymbal.
The closing number, Blue’s “The Caribbean Express” has, as you would expect, a strong Caribbean influence. Powell does some interesting things with his trombone, and the whole thing comes together wonderfully.
Here is Powell, talking about “Nextep”.
And the closing moments of Powell’s funeral, featuring the Wynton Marsalis Orchestra, Wyclef Gordon, and others.
I think it’s safe to say that you will find Benny Powell’s “Nextep” a wonderful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday (or any other) night!
While it still lasts, you can read Powell’s Twitter timeline here. You can read an interview with him here. And you can read more about him and buy his CD, “Nextep”, here.
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