granted, the trombone hasn't played a central role in jazz for more than 50 years, but it's still hard to figure why a musician as good as Clifton Anderson hasn't had a shot at fronting his own session before now. "Landmarks" is the 39-year-old trombonist's debut as a leader, and with its engaging mixture of Afro-Caribbean flavored tunes, ballads and straight ahead swingers, it's well worth the wait.
Anderson is known almost exclusively through his more than decade-long tenure with tenor saxophone titan Sonny Rollins (an association well documented on "Silver City," an essential two-CD set covering Rollins' quarter century on the Milestone label). Over the years, however, Anderson has performed in such diverse settings as Slide Hampton's World of Trombones, Frank Foster's Loud Minority, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and McCoy Tyner's Big Band.
As the other horn in Rollins' band, Anderson has the mixed blessing of following jazz's most prodigious improvisor night after night, a situation that would send many players so deep into the woodshed they'd never re-emerge. Given the chance to run his own show on "Landmarks," the trombonist takes charge of the situation, playing with relaxed authority. There's nothing experimental or challenging about Anderson's music; rather he concentrates on developing a cohesive group feel and on playing the melodies, reminding us just how warm and beautiful the horn can sound.
"Landmarks" features guest appearances by trumpeter Wallace Roney and alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who adds some emotional punch on the jaunty shuffle "Mommy." But the most important other voice is provided by the brilliant and often overlooked Jamaica-born pianist Monty Alexander, a fiery improvisor who makes the most out of each solo (check out "Steamin'," his recent trio session on Concord). The rhythm section also features powerhouse drummer Al Foster, percussionist Victor See Yuen and bassist Bob Cranshaw, who's played with Rollins even longer than Anderson and is heard here on acoustic bass.
The album opens with Anderson's unusually structured swinger "P.G." and takes off with "Landmarks Along the Way," an original that favors a Latin groove. Given Anderson's and Alexander's Caribbean heritage, it's not surprising to find a strong island flavor pervading the session, most pronounced on "I Thought it Was Understood," a tune composed by Anderson's mother. The trombonist imports two tunes from the Rollins repertoire -- "I've Never Been In Love Before" and "My One and Only Love" -- but puts his own stamp on them. On the latter tune, where he plays some exquisite muted trombone, Anderson displays the kind of depth, patience and sensitivity that comes with experience. Given the strength of "Landmarks," maybe Anderson the bandleader won't have to wait quite as long for his second record.