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Albums We Love: Melba Liston and Her 'Bones

From start to finish, 1958′s Melba Liston and her ‘Bones is hard-swinging, driving and deeply rooted in the bop tradition. A virtuoso trombone player, it’s Melba Liston’s only recording as a leader and one of the few on which you can hear her play solos. Perhaps because of her gender, she’d long been ignored in the jazz world until the reissue of this record in 2006.

This album was released just after Liston had toured with Dizzy Gillespie and formed her own all-female quintet in the late 1950s. Melba plays with a mysterious warmth that’ll leave you snapping your fingers to the beat.

The lineup of supporting musicians on this record is impressive, featuring Bennie Green, Al Grey and Benny Powell, all on trombone as Liston’s backups. Kenny Burrell’s understated, melodic guitar adds to the allure of the album while Ray Bryant’s piano shines a glimmering light throughout the theme song What’s My Line. Slide Hampton’s tuba (yes, Slide also played the tuba!) adds a deep richness that can only be achieved by the largest and lowest-pitched of brass instruments.

The opening track Christmas Eve swings with fervor while The Dark Before Dawn engages the listener with a secretive pensiveness. The Trolley Song is a triumphant celebration. Blues Melba is probably the highlight of the album: seductive, driving bluesy-jazz, reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Liston’s bandmates paid her the highest of compliments when they said, “She’s just like one of us.” When other women were playing the piano and singing, Melba was blowing her trombone and writing great tunes. This album deserves to be pulled from the vaults, dusted off and remembered as a significant session in jazz history.

-Jessica Rand, Host of Takin’ Off (Mon-Thurs 3-6 PM)