American trombone player and vocalist Jerry Tilitz lives in Hamburg and joins German tenor player Ralph Reichert and three other European musicians for Back to Back. The co-leaders were inspired to record together after an impromptu get together on stage, and used the opportunity to pay tribute to a jazz classic they both admire: Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at the Opera House. They revisit three songs from that recording and choose a few other tunes to interpret, including three by Tilitz.
Tilitz is an imaginative player whose improvisations are filled with warmth and good humor. Reichert has an engaging melodic style that meshes well with that of Tilitz, especially on the latters own enjoyable compositions. Pianist Enno Dugnus provides strong harmonic support throughout. His solos are models of economy and taste. In fact, Back to Back has an abundance of taste when one wishes it would cut loose a little more. Drummer Björn Lücker and bassist Joachim Gerth are both capable players and they use their solo spots to good advantage, but they often seem to be holding back.
The liner notes say Back to Back was recorded live at Hamburgs Birdland Jazzclub, but my guess is that it was not performed in front of an audience. The recording is enjoyably clean, with a pleasant hint of reverb, but it feels at times as if it was fussed over too much, hemming the musicians in. The two most enjoyable tracks feature Tilitzs world-weary vocals. He could teach many younger crooners how to approach a lyric.
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