Jennifer Wharton’s Bonegasm – Grit & Grace
(Sunnyside Records. Review by John Ferguson)
A new jazz album recorded at the iconic Power Station studios in New York in May this year, with eight top-class musicians performing ten mainly brand new pieces by eight different composers, yet there’s not a saxophone, nor a guitar to be heard! Jennifer Wharton’s album ‘Grit & Grace’ demonstrates the wonderful diversity of jazz, with her trombone-fronted ensemble Bonegasm performing especially commissioned pieces by leading contemporary composers, who – not coincidentally – also happen to be women.
The title Wharton chose for this album is taken from a 2019 Forbes Magazine article that decreed that the two characteristics women need most to thrive in the business world are “grit and grace” – an indication of the undoubted approach Wharton has had to take at times, in her career as a professional bass trombonist.
Wharton herself wrote three pieces for this third album by her outfit Bonegasm and they sit perfectly alongside compositions by such contemporary luminaries as Nadje Noordhuis and rising star conductor/composer Miho Hazama (whose new album ‘m unit: Beyond Orbits’ released last month on Edition Records, is another recommended listen).
What is immediately striking about the album are the consistently melodic tunes and the lightness of the overall feel, despite a brass-laden frontline of three trombonists – John Fedchock, Nate Mayland and Alan Ferber – plus Wharton’s own bass trombone making up half of the ensemble. Michael Eckroth’s piano helps to emphasise the strong melodies inherent in all of the compositions, whether that be the Brazilian flavour of Natalie Cressman’s ‘Menina Sozinha’, Vanessa Perica’s lament ‘In Our Darkest Hour’ (with definite hints of Maria Schneider, no bad thing to these ears), Hazama’s heavier ‘Norhala’, or the Frida Kahlo-linked folk melodies of ‘La Bruja’. Bassist is Evan Gregor, drummer Don Peretz with percussionist Samuel Torres on some tracks.
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The absence of what might be termed ‘traditional’ jazz frontline instruments, is at no time a hindrance. The more orthodox rhythm section of piano, bass, drums and percussion, keeps things firmly in the jazz domain, whilst the trombonists each impress, whether working in harmony as a brass section or as solo improvisers across the different tracks. Nicely done Jennifer Wharton and team!
Author John Ferguson co-promotes live music at SoundCellar in Poole (www.soundcellar.org)
‘Grit & Grace’ is released on Sunnyside Records today, 20 October 2023 – Bandcamp