One Track Mind: Shawn Bell Quintet, "Requiem For Lovers" (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

The young trombonist Shawn Bell didn’t attend one of those big name prestigious music schools in the Northeast, nor is a player in the hustle and bustle of New York City’s intense jazz scene, but just listen to his debut album from last year Things Yet Unknown and you could easily be fooled into thinking so. Likewise, he didn’t make an album full of golden jazz standards—only two of the seven cuts are covers—but again, Bell could have you assuming just that.

A product from southwestern Michigan, Shawn Bell has studied and now performs and teaches jazz trombone in the Midwest. As he was completing graduate studies at Northern Illinois University last spring, he put together this record with the help of cohorts from his generation and region to make a record that sounds uncommonly experienced. But Bell is hardly inexperienced at all: he’s toured with legends like Curtis Fuller, Lewis Nash and Benny Golson. Bell also has performed with Stefon Harris, Randy Brecker, Bobby McFerrin and Slide Hampton. In 2007 he was selected to participate in a program at Washington’s Kennedy Center that features young jazz musicians from around the globe to perform concerts of their own composed music.

These are tidbits about his budding career that I didn’t really read about when I first heard this record, but the music kept dropping hints. Especially on the elegant track “Requiem For Lovers.” It’s one of those slow, smooth groovers that’s one of the few nods Bell gives to the relatively more contemporary jazz sound. Samuel Jewell modulates the song first with some crisp snare rim and high hat strutting as pianist Ross Margitaz and bassist Nathan Brown play together to drop in the dispersed but urbane chord progression. Bell enters after the short intro to state the thematic line and trumpeter Quentin Coaxum takes his turn as each harmonizes with the other on the latter half of the line, then stay together as they move into the chorus. Coaxum takes a solo that step up a bit from the laid back beginning, with Jewell controlling the cadence. On Bell’s turn, Margitaz’ piano sits out in the beginning, leaving an unexpected void in the sound that unconsciously grabs your attention in the opposite way the Coaxum’s solo does. Using restraint as a ear catching device is a demonstration of how Bell and his crew “get it” when it comes to understanding the subtle intricacies that are present in the beauty of jazz. 


Furthermore, both of the horn players improvise in an unhurried, measured fashion that reach for the right notes, not the most technically impressive ones. You can hear the soulful influence of Fuller when Bell plays, a great role model for any aspiring trombone player.

There’s more evidence of that level of maturity and understanding found throughout Things Yet Unknown, actually, but the sheer coolness of “Requiem For Lovers” makes it the go-to track in an album full of very listenable tracks. Shawn Bell, should he ever move to NYC, is plenty ready. If he stays put, well, that’s a boon for the Midwest jazz scene.

Bell self-released Things Yet Unknown last September 28.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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