Washington DC nativeShannon Gunn makes a bold artistic and social statement with her stimulating debut Gunn’s Ablazin’. Gunn showcases her talents as a trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader as she fronts two different ensembles interpreting eight originals and four very diverse covers.
The album starts with “Orange Noise,” a commentary on the U.S. president’s ample use of twitter. Gunn blows short angular phrases after which the rest of the band joins in, forming boisterous, thundering refrains. Gunn’s energetic improvisation balances buttery smoothness with an understated growl while bassist Mikel Combs lays down a muscular groove with swagger. Drummer Kelton Norris solos with elegant polyrhythms before the quintet returns to the main theme.
Combs and Norris open the poignant and multilayered “Babes In Cages Are Not OK” with their respective walking bass and rustling drums. A melancholic ambience ensues as vibraphonist Chris Barrick enters with his hypnotic chines. Guitarist Garrett Gleason introduces resonant and wistful phrases adding an eerie edge to the tune. Gleason and Barrick’s contemplative conversation is delightfully dissonant and dovetails into Gunn’s extemporization with its fiery growl and pensive notes. The simultaneously irate and elegiac group performance is haunting as it shimmers and glows within a dramatic atmosphere.
Gunn’s intriguing arrangements of other pieces make them fit thematically well with the rest of the album. Gunn’s version of H.E.R’s pop hit “Carried Away,” gets a hard bop makeover. Keyboardist Hope Udobi lays down dense, simmering chords at an unhurried pace. Gunn embellishes the melody with grace and sophistication while Norris’ kit percolates restlessly n the backdrop.
There are also few tributes to people and places Gunn loves. The most notable of these is the one dedicated to her father, the dynamic and pastoral “Cycal.” Norris contributes effervescent beats and Udobi showcases his lithe agility as his keys cascade in rapid arpeggios. Gunn’s improvisation is emotive and intelligent with self-assured and complex lines.
Listening to Gunn’s Ablazin’ it is easy to understand why Gunn was voted D.C.’s best trombonist in 2015 and 2017. More than her instrumental prowess, this captivating recording also highlights Gunn’s superb musicianship and the relevance of her work both creatively and in the civic sense.
Track Listing: Orange Noise; Missing Perspective; Babes in Cages Are Not OK; Ellen; Ms. Cheverly; #Canigetpaid; Cruash; Dinah; Carried Away; Gymnopedie, No. 1; Cycal; Rainbow Connection.
Personnel: Shannon Gunn: trombone; Kelton Norris: drums (all tracks); Chris Barrick: vibes; Garrett Gleason: guitar; Mikel Combs,: bass ( the Shannon Gunn Quintet tracks 1-3, 7); Hope Udobi: keys (Firebird Organ Trio tracks 4-6, 8-12).