Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Conrad Herwig - Revisited

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

This feature on Conrad Herwig - the supremely talented trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader and educator - represents another of our efforts at combining previously posted, two-part features into one larger piece for ease of access in the archives.

It also affords the editorial staff at JazzProfiles with an opportunity to add a video at the conclusion of this re-posting that will serve as an example of Conrad's trombone playing and style of arranging.

Lastly, it will serve as a precursor to a feature that brings Conrad's career up to date since this essay originally posted in two-parts on October 12, 2008 and October 17, 2008, respectively.

Conrad Herwig is one of the leading trombonists on today’s Jazz scene. This piece explores his work from two perspectives: [1] the Criss Cross Jazz recordings that he has made under his own name and also with groups led by tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and trumpeter Greg Gisbert and [2] the theme albums that he has developed both as a tribute to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and as a way of interpreting their music in Latin Jazz contexts.

These Criss Cross and theme recordings span a 15 year period – 1992-2008. Not only do they provide a vehicle to hear the evolution of Conrad’s playing over this period, but they also serve as a platform for becoming familiar with the work of the many excellent contemporary who populate these sessions as sidemen.

Herwig is an alumnus of North Texas State University in Denton, Texas (where he performed in its renown One O’clock Jazz Lab Band), and currently Professor of Jazz Trombone, Jazz Improvisation, and Jazz Composition and Arranging at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Conrad began his professional career in 1980 with the Clark Terry Big Band and later joined the Buddy Rich Orchestra for tours of the US and Europe.

After setting-up a permanent residency in New York, he performed with Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones and Mario Bauza’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as well as, with the orchestras of Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mel Lewis, Bob Mintzer, Henry Threadgill, the Mingus Big Band and Eddie Palmieri.

In small groups, Herwig also performed and recorded with Red Garland, Dave Liebman, Max Roach, Bob Stewart, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez, Greg Gisbert, Brian Lynch and Walt Weiskopf.

In The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Sixth Edition, Richard Cook and Brian Morton comment that “Herwig is an exemplar of trombone technique. … He’s fast, he likes the high register, …, he only rarely sounds like Jay Jay, and he’s so sure-footed that you can’t imagine him knocking one over.” Clark Terry has commented about Conrad that we should “be on the lookout for a new giant” and Eddie Palmieri has labeled Conrad “the best trombonist on the planet.”

Let’s begin this retrospective with Walt Weiskopf’s 1992 Criss Cross recording entitled Simplicity [Criss 1075 CD] on which he uses an unusual tenor sax, alto sax and trombone front line [Weiskopf-Andy Fusco-Herwig] although there is some precedence for this grouping in the Lighthouse All-Stars sound with Bob Cooper-Bud Shank- Frank Rosolino or Benny Golson’s New York Scene sound with Benny-Jimmy Cleveland-Gigi Gryce.

In his insert notes, Neil Tesser offers this explanation as to what Weiskopf was looking for in terms of the sound of the music on this album and Herwig’s role in helping to produce it.

“In the past, Weiskopf has issued his songs in the classic format of a saxophone-led quartet. On Simplicity, though, he leads an unusually instrumented sextet. The 34-year-old saxist has been toying around with the idea of a larger group for some time, in hopes of satisfying his desire to write for several instrumental voices. But his actual choice of horns involved other criteria. First, he knew that he wanted his tenor to play the featured role in the ensembles; for Weiskopf, this meant no trumpet (since that instrument usually takes the lead). But he also knew the importance of that slippery commodity called "chemistry," the invisible bonds that make Musicians A and B sound so much better together than A and C.So Weiskopf called upon trombonist Conrad Herwig and the little-known alto saxist Andy Fusco, both of them such good and longstanding friends that they really serve as surrogate brothers to the tenorist. Fusco, a dozen years older, played with Weiskopf in Buddy Rich's big band of the early 80s. "He was my mentor then," says Weiskopf. "For years, I could never understand why he was so under-recorded, and I wanted to do something about that on this project." Fusco, who teaches extensively, boasts an especially expressive tone, and his solos reveal the relaxed excitement of a jazz veteran. As for Herwig another veteran of the Rich band, who now sits behind Weiskopf in the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra - he and Weiskopf first met at the Interlaken Music Camp in Michigan, when both were 16. (But while they have maintained their friendship for nearly 20 years, this album marks their first recording together, other than one project with the Akiyoshi band.) Herwig has produced several of his own albums, on which he exhibits a well-grounded yet often exploratory musical personality.”

Rounding out the group is an excellent rhythm section made up of Walt’s brother Joel on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. In addition to his wonderful section work on Weiskopf’s arrangements, Herwig distinguishes himself with facile and inventive solos on the seven originals by Walt [out of 9 tunes] which is not an easy thing to do given his limited exposure to their structure before the recording date.

The same assemblage came together four years later on Walt Weiskopf’s 1996 album for Criss Cross [1147] entitled Sleepless Nights. Here again, with the exception of Harold Arlen’s evergreen, Come Rain or Come Shine, all of the tunes are originals with plenty of room for Walt, Andy and Conrad to “stretch out.” Sid Gribetz comments as follows in his inserts notes about the nature and the quality of the music on the album:

“More than just a feature for the musicians on this album, who all display great artistry and sensitivity, the album is a setting for Weiskopf's great writing. Weiskopf as a player is firmly rooted in tradition but appears totally unique and undeniably identifiable. As a writer, he has managed to transcend the hard bop idiom and compose in a bright, fresh contemporary manner. However, unlike others who ply more ethereal contemporary airs, Weiskopf's writing retains the hard drive, swing, and emotional intensity of the best in jazz, while stretching the forms to more sophisticated compositions.”

In 1996, Conrad released The Latin Side of John Coltrane [Astor Place TCD4003], the first of his “theme” albums. Its Latin version of Blue Train alone based as it is on sustaining and expanding the whole notes that make up the melody as played over a cooking 6/8 Latin rhythm is worth the “price of admission” with Ronnie Cuber’s cookin’ baritone sax solo on the tune thrown in as a bonus. The interplay between Brian Lynch and Conrad is magnificent on this track [and throughout the recording] as they trade fours bar solos over a montuna that indicates what kindred spirits they had become as band-mates in Eddie Palmieri’s orchestra before this album was issued.

Douglas Payne offered this analysis of the recording on www.allaboutjazz.com:

“A great idea beautifully executed by New York trombonist Conrad Herwig. The trombonist/arranger/musical director chooses Coltrane's most accessible material from a period that arguably spawned his best, most memorable work (1958-1964), devised simple, exploratory frameworks for each (recalling veteran Chico O'Farrill), then assembled an outstanding collection of musicians.

In addition to Herwig's sinewy trombone, there's Brian Lynch on trumpet, Dave Valentin on flutes, Ronnie Cuber on baritone, Richie Beirach (who contributed to some of the arrangements), Danilo Perez and Eddie Palmieri on piano, Andy Gonzalez (from the Fort Apache Band) on bass and Milton Cardona on vocals and percussion. Selections are outstanding: “A Love Supreme,” “Blue Train,” (where Lynch trades fours with Herwig), “Afro Blue” (great flute solo by Valentine), “Naima” (beautifully featuring Beirach), “After The Rain,” “Impressions” and “India.”

Throughout, Herwig solos flawlessly, with a sensitivity and fire that's reminiscent of the source of his tribute. Herwig's record, more than Joe Henderson's recent big-band event, sounds like a natural conclusion. The arrangements and performances work well together and the Latin environment seems a logical foundation for Coltrane's passions. One last note: Astor Place has done a beautiful job packaging The Latin Side of John Coltrane , sparing no expense for trendy art direction that recalls some of the very expensive covers Limelight Records put out in the mid 60s. Recommended.”
Also in 1996, Conrad made another guest appearance on Criss Cross, this time with his Akiyoshi-Tabackin and Buddy Rich Big Band mate, trumpeter Greg Gisbert on the latter’s The Court Jester [1161].

Gisbert who lists both Clark Terry and Bobby Shew as “my trumpet role models” approached this album from his more recent tenure as a member of Maria Schneider’s orchestra with an emphasis on a four-horn treatment which created sounds and textures that were different in a small group setting.
Joining Gisbert and Herwig on the front-line are Jon Gordon [ss/as] and Tim Ries [ss/as/fl] and they are supported by Janice Friedman [p], Jay Anderson [b] and Gregory Hutchinson [d],

The following excerpt from Ted Panken’s insert notes to the recording demonstrate the thought and effort that Gisbert and Friedman put into the title track of the disc:

"Gisbert and Friedman co-composed and arranged The Court Jester, the title track, a rousing modal tune with a pentatonic feel. "I conceived basically the form of the tune and wrote the little 8-bar melody, while Janice contributed the changes we blow over and came up with a middle part. Conrad Herwig blows in E-flat minor, then there's a contrapuntal improvisation by Janice and Jon Gordon in which they blow on an B7, then Tim Ries blows with just the drums, then I play over the changes. Each solo section has a completely different form."

1997 saw the debut of Heart of Darkness [1155], Conrad’s first album for Criss Cross under his own name. Joining him to form the front-line is Walt Weiskopf [ts/ss] and Stefon Harris on vibes along with a terrific rhythm section made up of Bill Charlap [p], Peter Washington [b] and Billy Drummond [d].

Bob Bernotas offered these insights into Conrad’s exciting conception for this recording in the following excerpts taken from his insert notes:

At first glance, this new recording by trombonist Conrad Herwig … might bring to mind a venerable jazz tradition: "the blowing date."

But, as Conrad insists, if this is a blowing date at all (and that's an awfully big if), then it's a blowing date for the '90s-and beyond. "It's all live to two-track, it was recorded in one day, it's basically semi -impromptu," he explains, "and I guess that's what I consider a blowing date. But there is more writing on this recording, although everybody is such a good musician they made it sound natural, organic. So maybe the definition of a blowing date has changed from just calling standards to presenting more original material. But it's still very spontaneous and very reactive." In other words, this disc offers the best of both worlds-the immediacy of a classic blowing date presented through meticulously conceived original compositions.

The disc opens with the selected works of Conrad-the trombonist-composer (Herwig) and the writer (Joseph). "There are two short stories of Joseph Conrad's, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer, that I've been familiar with for several years and really enjoyed, and I had come back to when both of these pieces were composed. I do a lot of reading, I do a lot of introspective studying of books, and that's, sometimes, how I come up with titles."

The first of this pair, Heart of Darkness, is, as Conrad describes it, "a through-composed melody. The soloing is what I call 'interactive jazz expressionism.' I like the twists and turns time-wise, and the interaction between the soloists and the rhythm section. It's not just straight-ahead blowing. It's an exchange of kinetic energy, stretching the forms, improvising with a pulse, reacting to what is happening at the moment." That sort of fluid expressionism is readily apparent throughout the track, and especially so, Conrad notes, in Wait Weiskopf's mysterious, almost surreal, tenor saxophone statement. …

Conrad's The Secret Sharer, the second of his literary-inspired pieces, is a straight-eight, medium-tempo tune ignited by trombone-soprano saxophone counterpoint. "Believe it or not, I wrote this after listening to Bartok's String Quartet No. 6," he explains. "I used that as a reference." Conrad's solo rises and falls in an arch-like pattern that peaks in a stunning sonic display, not of pyrotechnics for its own sake, but of improvisational daring and depth. Walt plays soprano sax in the heads here."
And Conrad had this to say about pianist Bill Charlap’s contributions to the date:

"Bill's not only a phenomenal virtuoso of the instrument," Conrad remarks with admiration, "but his conception and his musicality are great-and the way he comps. You know, 'comp' is short for I accompaniment,' but I think in his case it's short for 'compliment.' He's always listening, he's always reacting, and he's always spontaneous."

Next up for Conrad on Criss Cross [1176] was the 1998 release of Osteology [the study of bones - more puns!]] on which Herwig is joined by fellow trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist James Genus and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts.

Dating back to the J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding trombone duo that was together for a few years in the mid-1950s, I’ve always been a fan of front lines made up of multiple trombones, and the Herwig and Davis duo as heard on this album does not disappoint. David Adler had this to say about Herwig and the album in his www.allaboutjazz review:

“A jazz guitarist with a penchant for provocation once called the guitar “the lamest jazz instrument? besides the trombone.” The big horn, with its awkward slide and low, nasal sound, is certainly a jazz underdog. Its important role in big bands is indisputable, but it is generally not thought of as a front man instrument. In other words, there’s never been a Charlie Parker or John Coltrane of the trombone. Thanks to the unwieldy mechanics of the instrument, trombonists typically haven’t been able to negotiate chord changes and fast tempos as fluidly as a sax or trumpet or piano player can. As a result, the trombone has not achieved the kind of iconic status in jazz that we associate with, say, the tenor saxophone.

But Conrad Herwig threatens to demolish all that. His technical facility is astounding. On his second Criss Cross release, Osteology, he recruits fellow trombonist Steve Davis of Chick Corea & Origin fame to complete his frontline. He didn’t name the record “osteology” — the study of bones — for nothing. The session comes across as a kind of trombone manifesto. If you’re thinking that two trombones up front might sound clunky and colorless, think again. This record is burning; it sounds more like a live show than a studio date. David Kikoski is on piano, James Genus is the bassist, and Jeff “Tain” Watts is behind the kit.

It’s remarkably easy to tell Herwig and Davis apart. Herwig is the more flamboyant of the two, tending toward the higher register and brandishing a brighter tone. Davis, favoring lower and fewer notes and a mellower tone, usually solos after Herwig. The disc opens with a seldom-played Coltrane number, “Syeeda’s Song Flute.” Other non-originals include Joe Henderson’s Caribbean-style “Fire”; a clever and unusually brisk 6/8 reading of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”; the oft-played but wonderful ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is”; and a blindingly fast “Devil May Care,” on which Kikoski solos with only his right hand, in the manner of Herbie Hancock on Miles Smiles.

Three Herwig originals complete the program. A contemplative Latin groove grounds “Kenny K.”, a moving tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland. Fittingly, piano is front and center, with Kikoski soloing first. “First Born,” which gets my vote for best track, is a medium blues that recalls Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner on Blue Note. Genus and Tain lock in and swing furiously. And “Osteology” closes the record with a fleet dual-trombone line over a breakneck swing tempo; Herwig and Kikoski solo at the peak of their respective powers.

There’s nothing too out of the ordinary here in terms of material; it’s as straightforward a hardbop/postbop menu as can be imagined. But the performances are outstanding and the energy is consistently high. The two trombonists surpass, to a startling degree, the supposed limitations of their instrument, supported by one of the most explosive rhythm sections I’ve heard on record in a while. Interestingly, Kikoski and Tain did not gel as well on Kikoski’s own Criss Cross effort The Maze. This time the ferocity just doesn’t let up.”
The Kikoski-Genus-Watts rhythm section is back Conrad’s 1999 release on Criss Cross entitled Unseen Universe [1194], but he moves to Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor to help create his most densely-voiced recording to date.

Turning to David Adler, once again, this time in a review for www.allmusic.com:

“Conrad Herwig's dazzling trombone chops and intelligent compositions make Unseen Universe, his third Criss Cross release, a stirring success. His sextet can maneuver around tight corners and yet attack with the force of a band twice its size. With Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Seamus Blake on tenor and soprano sax, David Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass, and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, Herwig can be sure of the group's ability to bring lushly orchestrated charts to life and improvise with sterling clarity and brilliance. Conceptually, with the title track and also with pieces called "The Tesseract," "From Another Dimension," "Triangle," and "The Magic Door," Herwig seems preoccupied with geometry and some of its metaphysical implications. Even as he draws heavily on the '60s Blue Note sound as established by figures like Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, Herwig stretches the limits of modern mainstream jazz with this all-original set.”

After a one year lay-off, Conrad returned to Criss Cross and released Hieroglyphia [1207] in 2001. Also returning for this date is Bill Charlap whose consummate skills as a Jazz pianist seem to grow immeasurably with each passing year, and James Genus on bass. Gene Jackson is the newcomer on drums.

C. Andrew Hovan provided this complimentary and perceptive review of the recording for the readers of www.allabout jazz.com:

“It is without taking away anything from the founding fathers of this music to suggest that some of today's practitioners might be the most technically gifted lot to come along. Of course, they now have the entire rich history of jazz at their fingertips and slews of recordings for inspiration, yet there's no denying the talent at hand. Such is the case with 43-year-old trombonist Conrad Herwig. Hardly a Johnny Come Lately, Herwig has been on the scene for some 20 years playing in the bands of such legends as Buddy Rich and Eddie Palmieri, but has to be considered one of the most innovative players to come along since the days of J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller.

Herwig's fourth and most recent date for the Dutch Criss Cross label, Hieroglyphica is a no holds barred quartet set of all originals that finds everyone working at full throttle. Without other horns to get in the way, this is the best place to experience Herwig at his most incendiary. Starting with a low moan and then breaking into wild glissandos through the upper register, Herwig kicks off the title track with a dazzling display that then builds to a frenetic climax with drums wailing and the rest of the ensemble participating in the collective frenzy.

It's time for a quick cool down with the Latin-tinged 'The Orange Dove,' a breathy melody that is supported beautifully by pianist Bill Charlap's comping. And speaking of Charlap, for those of you only familiar with his demure and most recent trio dates, you'll be surprised at how much the pianist seems to step outside of the box here. In fact, some reckless abandon breaks forth on 'Island of the Day Before' as Herwig builds the tension before giving way to Charlap, who ushers in the calm before the storm and then hits with some heavy stuff of his own. And to get an idea of Herwig's range and the full complement of devices, look no further than a bluesy 'The Intruder.' Technically accomplished and still filled with communicative appeal, Hieroglyphica just may be Herwig's most brilliant recital to date.”

A year later in 2002, producer Gerry Teekins brought Conrad back into the Systems Two Recording Studio in Brooklyn, NY for the recording of Land of Shadow [1230]. Incidentally, the purity of sound on all Criss Cross recordings is due to the outstanding skills of its recording engineer, Max Bollerman. Gerry Teekins has formed a working relationship with Max similar to the one that was in effect between Alfred Lion and Rudy van Gelder, the engineer who supervised the recording of the classic Blue Note albums of the 1950s and 1960s.

On this recording, Conrad [with support no doubt from, Gerry Teekins, himself an accomplished Jazz drummer] demonstrates his appreciation of how special the affinity of rhythm section mates can be for the success of a recording by bringing back Dave Kikoski [p], James Genus [b] and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts [d] as participants on this date.

In an effort to keep himself fresh through the use of new voices, Conrad turns to Tim Hagans on trumpet and relative newcomer, Ben Schachter on tenor saxophone.

Dave DuPont on the recording in www.allmusic.com:

"Conrad Herwig is a musician on a mission to bring trombone into the front rank of jazz horns. And over his two-decade long career he's succeeded admirably in demonstrating the horn's flexibility. Still, his playing sometimes seems weighted down by that sense of mission. At his best, as he is consistently on Land of Shadow, he lets it rip, with the trombone's natural voice, complete with its slight slurs and slides, coloring the relentless torrent of notes.

Though, as on most of his sessions, this date is devoted to his own originals, Herwig opens with a high-powered take on the standard "Lullaby of Leaves," which sets the tone and introduces his sidemen. Pianist David Kikoski is especially impressive here, stretching the tune's harmonic structure to its limits. His more lyrical side is shown on the date's only other cover, Duke Ellington's "Gypsy Without a Song."

Trumpeter Tim Hagans complements the leader's ethos, evoking such progressive boppers as Booker Little and Ted Curson. The trumpeter, Hagans, charges through the harmonic mazes with the urgency of a fullback trying to gain a few more yards. Saxophonist Ben Schachter is a new voice. An educator from Philadelphia he plays with a tone like a fine carving knife — buffed and burnished and sharpened to a fine edge. Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts slashes across the beat, dealing out rhythmic wisecracks at every turn. Bassist James Genus, like his rhythm section mates a regular participant in Herwig-led sessions, plays the straight man, helping guide the ensemble with an insistent throb on the bottom. This helps the listener as well to negotiate Herwig's intriguing originals. The pieces range from the complex structures such as "The Dream Master" to the open jam on the minor-key blues, "Land of Shadow." Another shining entry into Herwig's impressive body of work."

With his Criss Cross recording [1254] of Que Viva Coltrane in 2003 which he co-lead with trumpeter Brian Lynch, Conrad returns to and expands upon the “Latin-side” theme albums that he began in 1996 with The Latin Side of John Coltrane. As we shall see, this is the beginning of a concerted effort by Herwig to re-cast the music from a number of trend setting recordings from Jazz’s Golden Age in the 1950’s and 1960’s into Latin Jazz as a way of allowing the listener to hear this music from a fresh and different perspective.

Terrell Kent Holmes writing in www.allaboutjazz.com explains more about the context for this recording and its music:

“The world will never pay enough homage to the music of John Coltrane. Having his music translated into the Latin idiom isn't a huge stretch, considering that many of his tunes had strong Afro-Cuban roots.

Placing Trane en clave was a challenge that trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch happily accepted when they conceived Que Viva Coltrane , a humble offering to the immortal saxophonist in which they successfully translated some of Trane's most famous tunes into the Latin idiom.

"Lonnie's Lament" showcases the chops of flautist Mario Rivera, Herwig and Lynch, all of whom play excellent solos. The intricate arrangement of "Miles' Mode" is played in mambo rhythm, with Rivera's baritone sax leading the brass charge. Robby Ameen and Richie Flores solo on drums and congas, respectively, before Herwig and Lynch's spirited exchange take the song out on high.

Pianist Edsel Gomez states the melody on "Wise One," with Herwig's lovely solo leading into the doubling of the rhythm and crisp soloing by Lynch and Gomez. John Benitez' wicked electric bass at the beginning of "Countdown" may recall Coltrane's blistering opening, but it certainly has its roots laid down in Jaco Pastorius. The brass picks up the baton and races to the finish, with Trane's signature at the end declaring victory.

Lynch's flugelhorn is the standout among the fine brass arrangement of "Central Park West," and "Grand Central" features another mean bari solo by Rivera. The breezy, arrangement of "Straight Street" evokes the warmth of a Caribbean island, providing a relaxing respite before "Locomotion" brings things to a rousing end.

Although Coltrane inspired this fine disc, the arrangements and overall spirit owe as much to Tito Puente and Machito as they do to Trane. It's almost a certainty that somewhere, all three men are beaming like proud parents.”

And in a separate review from the same source, C. Andrew Hovan had these comments about the recording:

“In recent years, trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig were part of one of Eddie Palmieri’s better late period ensembles, proving to be an incendiary addition to a high-octane ensemble dedicated to the fiery hybrid most folks refer to as salsa. It’s perfectly logical then for the pair to team up for a recent project fashioning Latin jazz treatments of several John Coltrane classics. Wisely, they have chosen to bring on board a crew of musicians steeped in the tradition, with pianist Edsel Gomez and drummer Robby Ameen being particularly integral to the overall success of the music.
On the whole, Herwig and Lynch have chosen well, and each arrangement grooves with its own identity, still retaining the essence of the original….”In 2004, Conrad was back at Systems Two Recording Studios again for Gerry Teekens and Criss Cross this time to produce Obligation [1268] which was essentially produced around a Hammond B-3 Organ trio sound with Seamus Blake [ss/ts] back to help form the front-line. Mark Whitfield is on guitar and he is joined by relative newcomer Kyle Koehler on Hammond and drummer Gene Jackson who is back again after appearing on Hieroglyphia. With Conrad’s opening track original Forget About Me, there’s even a boogaloo-gospel-soul-funk sound to evoke memories of Blue Note’s classic recordings done in this style.

Not-to-be-missed is the outstanding ‘dual’ between Herwig and drummer Jackson on the upper tempo title track that demonstrates the incredible techniques of some of today’s young players on their respective instruments.

In his insert notes, C. Andrew Hovan points out many aspects about this album’s qualities so incisively that I thought it best to share them in their entirety. Mr. Hovan has written so often and so well about Conrad’s music that it would appear that he has become an authority on the subject and worthy of such deference and respect.

"Jazz fans tend to be fanatical about those artists that most directly speak to their own musical tastes. Over time, a sense of familiarity with the musical personalities of their iconic favorites becomes entrenched, followed by categorization based on style and genre. Those already familiar with Conrad Herwig's musical endeavors over the past 20 years are likely to speak to his great versatility, at home in both jazz and Afro-Cuban musical circles as he is in leading his own varied projects. Then there's the undeniable technical proficiency he has attained that puts him in a class by himself, a valuable asset for the kind of advanced hard bop that serves as foundation for his usual modus operandi.

All the foregoing is to suggest that Herwig fans who think they know his methodology quite well will be somewhat surprised by the revelations offered with Obligation, essentially an organ combo record within the soul-jazz continuum. On closer consideration however, the genesis for this venture can be traced via other projects that have included Herwig, most notably time spent with Don Braden in an organ group documented on the saxophonist's album The New Hang.

"This was a project I've wanted to do for a long time because I'm a B3 fanatic," Herwig says with a palpable degree of satisfaction. "My grandmother played organ in church and she always had an organ in her house. We used to play hymns together when I was a little kid. Of course, coming up I collected records by Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton, Jimmy McGriff, and all the heavy cats. Then, when I first came to New York, I was playing with Jack McDuff."

Over the course of seven previous Criss Cross discs, Herwig has challenged himself by changing up the ensemble groupings and tailoring his compositions to the talents at hand. "What I try to do with every record is have a different combination of instruments or play with musicians I've wanted to record with on my own but haven't had the chance to," Herwig says. "In thinking of what I wanted to do with this disc, I shot some ideas at [producer] Gerry [Teekens] and suggested an organ quintet because I wanted to do something with the combination of tenor and bone."

In assembling the cast of characters for this new undertaking, Herwig had no problem in putting together a cohesive unit with individual talents that he's developed a musical history with over time. "It's an organic thing in that we're playing around the city in different projects," the trombonist explains. "Then we go into the studio and it sort of picks up from there because you feel familiar with all the cats."

As for Mark Whitfield, making his debut appearance on Criss Cross, Herwig first encountered the precocious guitarist while on the previously mentioned McDuff gig. "Dave Stryker was in that band and then when he left Mark Whitfield started with the group and that's how I first met Mark, which was over 20 years ago," states Herwig. "One of the great things about Mark is his versatility because he approaches the guitar like he was a horn player, but at the same time he can approach it from the totally traditional role."

A Criss Cross veteran with four of his own sessions as a leader for the label, Seamus Blake has recently spent some time of his own working in organ combos. He's gigged with Project 0 featuring Ingrid Jensen and up and coming organist Gary Versace and on Wycliffe Gordon's Dig This! (Criss 1238) the saxophonist was part of an ensemble that included Sam Yahel. "Seamus and I have played together so much that there's a trust level that allows us to experiment, but know that there's a safety net there," says Herwig about his front line partner.

Both Gene Jackson and Kyle Koehler have previously shared the stage with Herwig, the former appearing with the trombonist on Hieroglyphica (Criss 1207) and the latter making "the new hang" with Don Braden's organ group. "Gene and Kyle are both from Philly and so we got a Philly sound and groove going," Herwig says. "Of course, Mark is from Manhattan and Seamus is from Canada and I'm an Army brat, so it was a great experience to have all these guys come together."

Coming as no surprise to those familiar with his gifts as a composer, Herwig set out to avoid the clich├ęs associated with your run-of-the-mill organ record. As he explains, "I told the guys I didn't think I was going to have any traditional fatback organ stuff on the record and then I ended up writing some because I think it's impossible to escape that sound because it's in the tradition. But the other tunes are more of my kind of thing in the post '60s harmonic language, but transmuted onto the organ. In fact, I would really be remised not to talk about Larry Young, who is one of my all-time heroes. Larry really made the breakthrough on organ by taking John Coltrane's harmonic language and putting it on the B3. So that's the kind of thing that we humbly try to emulate, [but] with the modern harmonic language." Starting things out with a catchy line that nonetheless has all the substance you'd expect from a Herwig original, Forget About Me speaks with deceptive simplicity. "This is one of the more traditional tunes on the record, with an Eddie Harris vibe," says Herwig. "It's blues like, but without being a blues." Keep an ear out for Whitfield's stinging contribution and some heated exchanges between Herwig and Blake before the tune's conclusion.

By contrast, Solid Ground is a buoyant waltz that hits a gentler stride and a more relaxed groove. "One of the concepts that I went for here was that less is more," Herwig asserts. "I had actually written several different versions and arrangements of these tunes with more complicated harmonies and then as I played through them I gravitated towards more simplicity. There are not many musicians like Seamus that I would feel comfortable playing with in unison. In fact, it's sometimes easier to play in harmony than it is to actually be simple and explore the melody like we do on this one."

Lazy Bones is a title that essentially seems to match the languid feel of the tune's serpentine melody. "That repeated figure and vamp [in the beginning] is an Elvin Jones-like figure, but it's basically an E flat minor blues," says Herwig. "I have this theory that all successful jazz musicians can play the blues on any tune at any time. The thing is, they don't necessarily have to play the blues, but they give you the feeling that they could and that's one of the qualities of jazz that I totally love." Whitfield's solo includes some cutting single-line runs in the Grant Green tradition to match Koehler's Larry Young vibe.

A reflective composition of great beauty, Herwig calls Lua Flora "a piece that is very close to my heart." The tune's namesake is the daughter of guitarist Jose Netto, a close friend of Conrad's. "Tragically she was taken from us in an automobile accident at a very young age. The first part is really a reflection of sadness and then the second part of the tune that goes into the major vamp is about being uplifted and providing affirmation. Seamus' whole solo is magical, with Gene playing pandeiro and Mark playing acoustic guitar."

Containing its share of heated exchanges, Obligation is notable for a remarkable conversation between Herwig and Jackson that finds both men at the peak of their abilities. "Playing with Gene is just amazing," enthuses Herwig. "But then when you listen back to it, you wonder how you had enough energy to come up with your own solo."

For those who have been following Herwig since his early days, you might find something familiar about Tell Me a Riddle, a line that was featured on the trombonist's first recording. "It's a journey through a complex set of changes," boasts Herwig. "it has some surprise resolutions and different kinds of chord qualities. It's one of the first tunes that I ever wrote and I still play it a lot, so I figured it would be a fun thing to play with Seamus because he tackles changes so well."

The session concludes on a thoughtful note with The Blue Shore of Silence, a title taken form a collection of poems about the sea by Chilean author and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. "My wife is from Argentina and so we read a lot of the South American authors," Herwig says about the inspiration for the piece and the reverence he has for Neruda's work, a man that he calls "arguably one of the greatest poets of all time."

Thus comes to a close the latest chapter in the ongoing musical adventures of Conrad Herwig. It's a disc that the trombonist rightly feels is "very listenable," a quality that he finds particularly gratifying these days. "I'm overjoyed with the guys in the band. They're all virtuoso players and good friends too. When you're able to communicate and have a feeling of trust, you can take chances and [then] it's really a dream come true."

C. Andrew Hovan - All About Jazz, Jazz Review, Down Beat

2004 was to be a banner year for Conrad as during it he also released Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis [Half Note Records 4530] which would be followed a couple of years later by Sketches of Spain Y Mas [Half Note Records 4539]. The music for both came from the same week-long stint at the Blue Note in New York by an all-star that Herwig put together expressly to play and record the music that appeared on these two CDs.

Reviewing a concert performance by Conrad’s group of the music from Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis that took place on January 31, 2004 at the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory Jazz Festival sponsored by Down Beat, Michael Shutts noted:

"Conrad Herwig is going Latin again. And no one's complaining

Herwig, the 43 year old trombone extraordinaire and winner of the 2002 Downbeat Critics' Poll for Jazz Trombonist of the Year, has always had an affinity for Latin jazz. He's a veteran of the bands of Mario Bauza, Paquito D'Rivera and Eddie Palmieri, and his 1996 release, The Latin Side of John Coltrane was nominated for a Grammy. Herwig's latest project, Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis, features Brian Lynch on trumpet, Mario Rivera on bari saxophone, Pedro Martinez on hand percussion, Robbie Ameen on drums, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, and Edsel Gomez on piano. The group played in front of a sold-out Pierson Auditorium at the University of Missouri-Kansas City 
Conservatory of Music to close the 2004 Downbeat/UMKC Conservatory Jazz Festival on January 31st.

The septet opened with their take on the Miles Davis classic tune “Seven Steps to Heaven.” This particular arrangement stayed close to Miles' original interpretation of the tune from the album of the same name. Herwig quickly revealed why his staccato, rhythmically inventive style lends itself well to Latin jazz, taking an energetic turn at the mic after Lynch and Rivera had finished blowing. One could easily identify the trombonists in the audience; most of them were already shaking their heads in disbelief.

After an interesting version of “Solar,” Herwig introduced legendary altoist Bobby Watson, who currently heads up the jazz program at UMKC. Watson is a beloved figure in Kansas City; after his warm reception, Herwig jokingly suggested that Mr. Watson consider a run at the presidency.

Truly a saxophonist's saxophonist, Watson never seems to mail in a solo. Almost irrevocably, Watson's solos reach a boiling point, a whirlwind of yelping altissimo and quarter-tone laced licks, that stoke some sort of fire deep within the listener. This performance was a prime demonstration, as Watson quickly stole the show.

The band continued with some tunes from their latest CD, which includes the five tunes from Miles' Kind of Blue album and “Petits Machins” from Filles de Kiliminjaro. One of the highlights was the group's rendition of “Freddie Freeloader.” One could wonder how such a simplistic tune could be transformed into a hot Latin piece, but Herwig's gang managed to do it. Instead of taking their solos after the original melody statement, Miles' trumpet solo from the original album was harmonized for four horns and played as an extension of the melody.

The band's version of “So What” really grooved, almost violently, evolving from Afro-Cuban, to funk and rock rhythms at the discretion of the aforementioned Ameen and Martinez. Another highlight was Watson's soprano solo on “Blue in Green.” Herwig opened the tune with some soulful, almost wailing, trombone work, and then it was the saxophonist's turn. Watson's soprano sound and tone has drastically improved since his early days as a leader (i.e. “And Then Again” from his album entitled “Jewel”). Although no group has ever rivaled the emotional power of the original recording, this interpretation of the tune was still magnificently beautiful.

The group proceeded with “Flamenco Sketches,” which opened with a vocal/percussion feature for Cuban percussionist Pedro Martinez on congas. Martinez was a bright spot all night long, showing why he is one of the hottest up-and-coming latin players in the world today. Finally, the set closed with “Petits Machins” which provided a fitting end to a great night of music."
And Bill Milkowski, a regular contributor to Jazz Times and Jazziz magazines offers the following description of the context and the music that appears on these recordings.

“It was back in March of 2003 that trombonist-bandleader Conrad Herwig brought a stellar nine-piece ensemble into the Blue Note for a weeklong engagement billed as "The Latin Side of Miles Davis." Three nights were recorded, subsequently yielding 2004's Grammy-nominated Another Kind of Blue, documenting the group's reinvention of Miles' landmark work from 1959, Kind of Blue, within the framework of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Volume 2 focuses on another Miles masterwork, Sketches of Spain, his stunning 1960 orchestral collaboration with Gil Evans that has remained an enduring jazz classic.

The centerpiece of this vibrant live outing is a stirring, 25-minute Sketches of Spain suite that incorporates Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" with elements of the Gil Evans compositions "Saeta" and "Solea." Following an opening flurry of churning Afro-Brazilian hybrid rhythms, guest soloist Paquito D'Rivera settles into a marvelous clarinet improvisation over the hauntingly beautiful Rodrigo theme. Herwig follows with an expressive trombone solo, eventually delving into multiphonics as the band drops out. Percussionist Richie Flores then explodes with a whirlwind, unaccompanied conga solo that lights up the bandstand. Trumpeter and co-musical director Brian Lynch makes a beautiful homage to Miles with his mellow Harmon mute solo on this dramatic Rodrigo passage, then switches to bold open horn playing for the trumpet call on Gil's "Saeta." D'Rivera returns for a sensuous alto sax solo over the moving "Solea" section, followed by some exceptional playing by the exciting young Puerto Rican pianist Edsel Gomez, who runs the gamut from classical introspection to turbulent, Cecil Tayloresque abstraction in the course of his dynamic and unpredictable solo.

The Y Mas portion of this inventive Afro-Latin collection includes an infections and eminently danceable son montuno of the classic Miles vehicle "Solar," a kinetically-charged jazz mambo rendition of "Seven Steps to Heaven" (the title track to a 1963 Miles recording) and a concluding percussive blowout on "Petit Machins" (from Filles de Kilimanjaro) that turns both drummer Robbie Ameen and conga maestro Flores loose for some heated Afro-Cuban jamming.

The music from Sketches of Spain is not something that you would normally find in a Fake book on the campuses of North Texas State or Berkley College of Music. In fact, it's very rarely ever played by working jazz ensembles. "Never before had I ever had a chance to improvise on those forms," says the world class trombonist who apprenticed in big bands led by Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Mel Lewis and also spent the past 20 years working with master salsa musician Eddie Palmieri. "It's not lead sheet type tunes that we're playing here, but rather we're using the themes as a vehicle for improvisation. So playing this music gave us a chance to freely express ourselves, to use different textures and put our own slant on it."

Interpreting Miles' music through an Afro-Cuban/Afro-Caribbean prism was not only an inspired concept, it was also a personally rewarding experience for the band leader. "The thing I feel really blessed about with this project is that all the musicians who played on it are people that I've known and musicians that I've performed with for years," says Herwig. "Robbie Ameen is a great friend of mine. We've known each other and have been playing together since we were 15 years old. Paquito is someone I started playing with in 1984 and then played with later in his Havana-New York Connection band and in the United Nations Band, which he took over the leadership of after Dizzy passed. Brian Lynch and I have been playing together in Eddie Palmieri's band for 20 years. Dave Valentin played with us in Eddie's La Perfect II band a few years ago. And Mario Rivera, who is one of the icons of Afro-Cuban music, has also played in Eddie's band over the years, as did John Benitez and Richie Flores. So Eddie was a kind of catalyst for this project." 
The group empathy of this extended family of bona fide salseros can be heard from start to finish on this riveting take on Miles.—Bill Milkowski

The year 2007 found Conrad [enjoyably] once again hard at work in the recording studios preparing A Jones for Tones Bones, a Criss Cross disc [1297] whose title is a pun on Chick Corea’s tune – Tone for Jones Bones.

Back again with Conrad for this recording is Steve Davis to provide a two trombone front line along with newcomers Orrin Evans [p], Boris Kozlov [b] and Donald Edward [d]. To my ears, the most enjoyable track on the recording is a blues tribute to Frank Rosolino entitled 24 for Frank. All of the other tracks on the recording are dedicated to trombonist that Conrad has a high regard for as detailed in the following www.allaboutjazz.com review as provided by none other than – C. Andrew Hovan.

“Easily one of the most technically brilliant jazz trombonists in the history of the music, Conrad Herwig continues to establish a superb catalog of releases that document him in a variety of settings and musical genres. From quartet dates to his Latin projects, the key ingredients to any of Herwig's endeavors are a desire to keep the music moving forward and his skills as a brilliant arranger and gifted composer. Such marks his latest Criss Cross Jazz side, A Jones for Bones Tones, his second two-trombone set shared with Steve Davis and a unique forum for original pieces that pay tribute to some of Herwig's key bone influences.

Utilizing friends from the Mingus Big Band, Herwig gains superb support from pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Donald Edwards. Of course, there's much to be gained by the complementary styles of Herwig and Davis. While the former is clearly identifiable by his overt and filigreed approach, the latter is just as distinguished, with a more melodic style and burnished tone. The wide variety of material here makes for a delightfully enjoyable recital that is well paced and just the right length.

Based on hybrid Brazilian grooves are the two numbers “Eje's Dream” and “Raulzinho's Ride,” the former piece written for Swedish trombonist Eje Thelin and the latter dedicated to Raul De Souza. Tapping the Afro-Cuban mood that Herwig greatly favors, “Que Viva Barry” references Barry Rogers, a key member of salsa legend Eddie Palmieri's ensembles in the '60s. “For Albert” is the ringer of the set, providing a showcase for Herwig's chops, while paying homage to avant garde stylist Albert Mangelsdorff. The other pieces strike a balance between medium and up-tempo swingers with dedications to Frank Rosolino, Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, and Curtis Fuller.

Herwig has come up with the perfect way to honor the legacies of several of jazz music's most important trombone stylists and in a way that is fresh and original. He could have easily pulled tunes or standards associated with these men and engaged in a mere nostalgia trip. Instead, his own compositions speak to his individuality, but also recall some of the distinguishing qualities of each honoree. Herwig and Davis certainly sound like they're having fun with the material and drummer Donald Edwards proves to be an interesting new find for this reviewer, his creative comping and refined sound adding immensely to the overall fine results.”.

And, to close this retrospective on Conrad Herwig’s recording career over the past fifteen years or so, in 2008, he released another of his theme titles – The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter [Half Note [924535]. Here again, the music was drawn from a “live” performance by the band at the New York Blue Note on May 19, 2008.

Appearing with Conrad on this date were old friends Brian Lynch [tp] Ronnie Cuber [bs], newcomer Luis Perdomo [p], Ruben Rodriguez [b], Robbie Ameen [d], and Pedro Martinez [congas]. Eddie Palmieri is the guest star on this date, but as described in Jeff Stockton’s www.allaboutjazz.com review, he has a major impact on the proceedings.

"Luis Perdomo is the regular pianist in Conrad Herwig's septet. He delivers a sterling, elegant solo on “Ping Pong,” the opening cut on The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. He anchors the first five songs with such skill that at the end of “This Is for Albert,” Herwig singles him out for the audience's applause. Unfortunately, it's to say goodbye. When salsa legend Eddie Palmieri takes over on piano, the concert is sent into orbit. Perdomo never stood a chance.

”Adam's Apple” may not be Shorter's greatest composition, but Palmieri makes a convincing case with syncopated montuno vamps that drive drummer Robby Ameen's funky backbeat and inspire baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber's sly comments and robust soloing. Palmieri taps into “Masquelero”'s heart of darkness and Herwig's tone on trombone is elusive and introverted, before trumpeter Brian Lynch takes a note-bending solo that slides itself into the piano's rhythms like mortar. Herwig and Lynch's simpatico playing is the highlight of “Footprints,” each of them winding similarly smooth and uncluttered solos around Pedro Martinez' congas.

This is the third installment in Herwig's Latin Side series (following interpretations of Coltrane and Miles) and features silky virtuosic musicianship applied to intricate, intelligent, original compositions. Shorter's tunes are well-known and highly regarded as being flexible enough to suit a variety of instrumental lineups. Since he's gathered his own multi-horn groups in the past, the sound of these arrangements doesn't stray too far from his initial conceptions. But if you know a person who thinks jazz is difficult to get, lacks melody, or you can't dance to it, this is a CD that will change their mind."
As those of you who have been following the pieces that appear on Jazz Profiles may recall, the editorial staff has continued with its concerted effort to highlight the work of players on the current Jazz scene whom it deems excellent in answer to a question rhetorically posed by Mike Hennessey, an esteemed writer on Jazz subjects whose work appears often on these pages.

Mike’s rhetorical question is – “Where are the Gillespies, Parkers, Rollinses, Getzes, J.J. Johnsons and Miles Davises of the new Jazz generation? [To which he answers]. There aren’t any.”

Hennessy goes on to explain that this question and answer is “… intended to imply that the general level of [Jazz] artistry and creativity today is in a state of decline.”

To this charge, Hennessy offers two pertinent quotations, taken appropriately from members of today’s Jazz generation.

The first is from trumpeter Terence Blanchard: “The real problem is that people keep looking for new Dizzys, Birds and Tranes instead of judging the new generation of musicians on their own terms and evaluating their music objectively. Why should they be expected to be clones of other musicians?”

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard’s partner at the time of this writing continues the sentiment by adding: “The general standard of playing among today’s young Jazz musicians is getting higher and higher all the time.”

Any doubts about the merit contained in these two assertions by Blanchard and Harrison should be further swept away by listening to the supremely gifted trombone playing of Conrad Herwig and the many excellent musicians who join with him on the recordings reviewed in this piece.

There is of course no way that these innovators and creators of the music will ever be replaced, after all, they had a colossal influence on the evolution of Jazz. But if in their larger-than-life-ness, they have served to inspire others to excel in their own Jazz skills and interpretations, then a close listening to Conrad Herwig and his musical colleagues on these discs will indicate that these Giants have done their job well.

Another consideration in closing is that, if Conrad will permit the immodesty on my part, perhaps Clark Terry was right and a new Giant is with us!?

Here's Conrad performing Wayne Shorter's Ping Pong:

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