The Joel Yennior Trio – Big City Circus (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

So they were picking up the band instruments, holding them high in the air, and looking for interested faces. When I saw that gleaming trombone, I just knew that I had to learn it. It was seventh grade and the middle school music teacher was looking for students. Just the thought of playing that horn made my face light up. It’s the kind of excitement you can only have when you’re a little kid. Life was good.

Except that my arms were too short. There was no way for me to extend that slide doohickey out to the proper position.

Darn it. It must have been that cool photo of Tommy Dorsey on that album my parents had. It made me lose my common sense. I was too little and I knew it…but I just had to try. Oh, the disappointment. I tried to make myself feel better by picking a different instrument — the oboe. Alright, this was more to my liking, size-wise.

Except that…well…have you ever tried to play an instrument with a double reed? The only sound I could get out of the thing reminded me of the ducks at the city park.

I went on to play the saxophone, the alto, of course. After my horrific oboe experience, I was happy to be able to make actual musical sounds with the instrument. Life was good.

Almost none of this story has anything to do with Joel Yennior. I mean, his arms are long enough for the trombone. He actually learned how to play his instrument of choice, as opposed to my soul-crushing compromise. I’m not bitter. Really, I’m not. It’s sort of funny though…that middle school was only a few hundred yards from Wesleyan University, home of Anthony Braxton. There’s just no way I could have foreseen that the geographic location of my musical embarrassment would have so much import this many years later.

And since trombonist Joel Yennior plays with the Either/Orchestra, I’m assuming he has a sense of humor about all of this.

Yennior’s trio allows for some interesting interplay, the key being the lack of a bass player. Trombone, guitar, drums. It’s a combination the allows for many dynamic trade-offs as the lead/bass roles are handed back and forth. The opening “Dancing Dave” provides many examples, with guitarist Eric Hofbauer running bass lines under Yennior, followed by a short duo passage of guitar over drums (Gary Fieldman), after which Yennior returns to provide further support. The varying combinations give the composition’s segments different “weights.” Interesting stuff.

The selections chosen for Big City Circus are quite wide-ranging, from the uptempo bop of the opening track to the Latin flair of “Estrellita,” to the blues angularity of Monk’s “Gallop’s Gallop.” There’s even a beautiful version of the Bacharach/David classic “A House is Not a Home.”

To get to the heart of what this trio can accomplish, attention must be paid to the three-part “Justice Lost.” Born of Yennior’s experience as a juror in an inner city murder trial, the music sweeps from the aching & tension-riddled “Blood On The Street” to the loping “Blues For Justice Lost” (the guitar/trombone conversation is fantastic), to the more open improvisations of “Big City Circus.”

So I’m glad that Joel Yennior was able to avoid the early-years trauma of selecting an instrument that was too big for his body….and even if there was an incident with, say, the contrabass clarinet, it’s good for all of us that things worked out for the better.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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