When I was a kid, I had a friend who played the trombone. After playing for a minute or two, his face would be red and he’d be out of breath and utterly exhausted. Once he handed me his trombone and dared me to produce a single note. I couldn’t. After that, I imagined that the trombone might be one of the toughest instruments to play. What does this have to do with the Seth Weaver Big Band and their new album Truth?
That’s easy. Seth Weaver is a trombone player. He also sings, composes and arranges. And yes, he leads an 18-piece big band jazz ensemble. When you listen to Seth Weaver do all this on stage, you have to wonder–is he a superhero? Or was my childhood friend just wimpy?
I’ve mentioned here and there that I sometimes get a little burned out if I listen to too much big band jazz. It all starts to sound the same after a while, all horn blasts and big exclamation points. It takes a novel approach, one that’s not so grounded in tradition, to get my ears to perk up. The Seth Weaver Big Band immediately caught my attention, and for two reasons. First of all, Weaver is a heck of a trombone leader. He knows how to lead a large ensemble with that sometimes loose and wild brass instrument, and there’s only one way to do it–by digging in deep and carving out big grooves in the landscape. His horn is both powerful and deeply melodic, and this is his gig.
The second reason to really pay attention to Truth is Seth Weaver’s ability as a singer. He has a smooth and relaxed crooner’s voice, not too far from where Michael Bublé lives and emulates his heroes, but with Weaver it sounds so at odds with his trombone. I listen to this music and I can almost see Seth Weaver standing out front of the band while wearing a beautiful expensive suit, and he’s holding that trombone by his side while he sings, and he steps away from the mic while he blows. Throughout Truth he sounds completely in control, even with all that going on around him. He’s not red-faced and exhausted…or at least he never sounds like it.
I haven’t even mentioned that Seth Weaver is an educator, as so many band leaders are in contemporary jazz. But here’s the kicker. One of his degrees is from the University of North Texas, and I chronicled their jazz program for Part-Time Audiophile just a couple of years ago. That was my entry point into big band jazz programs, and that road has led to this point where we’re hearing an alumnus play his heart out in NYC and do it with ease and mastery. For those who think jazz isn’t alive and well in America, here’s the evidence.