Ever wonder what those busy trombonists who play in ensembles and orchestras on the Vegas Strip do when they stop blowing and sliding and the stage goes dark after a gig? In 1962, a rehearsal band of them formed by Abe Nole launched an increasingly popular after hours hang that evolved over the years into a unique collective also featuring a killer rhythm section. In the mid-80s, several years after Curt Miller took the reins, the group disbanded, lying dormant until 2011, when he resurrected the vibrant concept for a whole new generation of horn masters.
Thus it was that in 2017, 55 years after the original ensemble joined forces, the Las Vegas Boneheads recorded their first-ever album, with the tongue in cheek title Attack of the Wind Driven Pitch Approximators. The name given to their freewheeling, punch, funk and swing filled follow-up, Sixty and Still Cookin’, speaks to the longevity, relevance and absolute freshness of the concept brought to this modern age.
The current lineup – Miller, Nathan Tanouye, Nate Kimball, Andrew Boostrrom, Ilai Macaggi and bass trombonists Sonny Hernandez and Ralph Pressler – have a spirited field day rolling through a set of colorful arrangements and quick tempo shifts taking snazzy, high energy creative liberties on tunes by the likes of Bill Rogers (the snappy paced “Al Cohn Tune”), Lee Morgan (the coolly strutting “Ceora”) and Gordon Goodwin (a vibrantly swinging “Home Again”).
Perhaps the best way to experience the unique magic the Boneheads offer is to hear them as they take on well-known standards like “Skylark” (a gently soulful ballad oasis amidst the sea of high energy romps), the jaunty, attitude dance “I Thought About You” and especially, the faithful yet liberating “Giant Steps,” which lets us know that ‘bones are as heart-tugging a jazz instrument as the sax. Testament to Curt Miller’s great composing skills is the fact that his original pieces “Samba Deez Bones” (as frolicsome as the title makes it sound) and “The Nervous Nellie” (ditto) are at least as, if not more engaging as the arrangements of the legendary works of the others re-imagined here.