Jennifer Wharton’s Bonegasm, Grit & Grace Review
Jennifer Wharton’s Trombone Revelations: A Deep Dive into Grit & Grace
By Stamish Malcuss
Bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton and her ensemble Bonegasm return with their third outing, Grit & Grace, an exploration of strength and elegance, resilience, and vulnerability. The ten tracks are a musical presentation by female composers that make a statement, challenging jazz norms and deep diving into the feminine energy often underrepresented in the genre.
Inspired by a 2019 Forbes article that linked success in the business world for women to “grit and grace,” Wharton transposes this sentiment into her musical world. By stepping into the realms of improvisation, composition, and bandleading, Wharton challenges the traditional confines of the bass trombone. This album elevates the oft-overlooked instrument, proving that even from the depths of its range, it can soar to new heights.
On Grit & Grace, Wharton makes a profound statement as she spotlights the inventive compositions of a cadre of remarkable female composers. Vanessa Perica’s fresh approach to jazz resonates in tunes that convey modern sensibilities, while Miho Hazama’s vast experience as a Grammy-nominated composer infuses the album with intricate orchestration and nuanced harmonies. Carolina Calvache’s fearless blending of global musical traditions adds a layer of multicultural richness, whereas Natalie Cressman’s deep roots in various genres, from Latin jazz to post-bop, introduce a spectrum of moods and textures. Nadje Noordhuis, with her unforgettably lyrical voice, imparts a poignant depth that complements the album’s overarching themes. Together, these women, each with their distinct musical voices, contribute to an album that is as much a celebration of female creativity and resilience as it is a testament to the power of collaborative artistry.
Wharton is the leader of the trombone-forward ensemble, Bonegasm, which is packed with stalwarts like trombonist John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, and Alan Ferber, enhances the listening experience.” can be slightly rephrased for clarity: “Wharton, leading the trombone-centric ensemble Bonegasm, collaborates with stalwarts such as trombonist John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, and Alan Ferber, ensuring an enhanced listening experience. Each member brings their expertise and flavor, making the album a rich tapestry of sounds. Fedchock’s vast experience from his over 40-year career is palpable, while Ferber’s distinctive style, celebrated over the years, makes an indelible mark. The contributions from Michael Eckroth on piano, Evan Gregor on bass, and Don Peretz on drums add layers to the album, creating a multifaceted listening experience.
“Moma’ Alright,” a Wharton original, shows the sonic power of four bones on the frontline. The sensual rhythm segues between straight and swing eights as the composition unfolds with trombone counterpoint and buzzing harmonies. Gregror’s warm acoustic bass takes the first solo; his ideas are melodic and flow. A well-written interlude takes us to Fedchock’s outstanding solo; his command of the trombone’s sonic pallet is excellent as he glides between registers with grace and style. Whatron’s solo shows she is not only a spirited leader, but her bass trombone chops are equally stimulating.
Tracks like Vanessa Perica’s “In Our Darkest Hour” stimulate the listener with the lower register of the four bones, offering a melancholic reflection of political strife. Conversely, Miho Hazama’s “Norhala” delves into the fantastical, drawing energy from the world of fantasy literature. Wharton’s rich tone and expressive articulations bring this piece to life, particularly evident when she plays the lead. Wharton’s “Be Normal” is an introspective journey and a playful nod to her effervescent spirit. This song has excellent solos by Fedchock’s trombone, Eckroth from the piano, and Pertez’s drumming skills.
However, the true magic lies in the album’s narrative – its commitment to amplifying women’s voices in jazz. Whether it’s through compositions by Carolina Calvache, Natalie Cressman, or Nadje Noordhuis, each piece tells a story, painting vivid imagery with notes and rhythms.
Concluding with Wharton’s dynamic performance on “Coop’s Condiments,” the album redefines what one can expect from a trombone-centric ensemble. Grit & Grace will entertain any jazz fan and reflects Wharton’s evolution as an artist. In the broader scope of jazz, it sets a precedent for future musicians, emphasizing that any narrative can take center stage with the right blend of grit and grace.