Sliding into the spotlight

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“Axiom” is the first release as bandleader for jazz musician Bill Cantrall, who, along with his ensemble, will be debuting some of the album’s tunes at a release party at Manhattan’s Smoke Jazz Club Nov. 19. The New Jersey native, now a two−year Astoria resident, has played trombone for years as a sideman in salsa groups and big bands from here to Chicago. Cantrall decided the time had come to take the role of band leader, and so this summer “Axiom” was born.

“It’s been in the works for some time,” Cantrall said. “I wanted to get out there as a leader, and I had a lot of songs and tunes I had been writing.”

The album serves not only aa a calling card for him as an up−and−coming band leader, but as a venue for his ensemble of players to showcase their talents. Cantrall says he wrote “Axiom’s” songs with the intention of portioning out solos for the rest of the ensemble and featuring their unique instrumental talents.

“Axiom” features Cantrall performing with some of the top players in the genre, like Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Sherman Irby on alto sax, Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, Rick Germanson on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Montez Coleman on drums. The ensemble comprises people who draw their roots from an array of places like Ohio, Iowa, Milwaukee, New Jersey, St. Louis and Georgia.

“New York is a meeting ground of the best pool of talent. The musicians in the band are from all over the place,” Cantrall said.

It wasn’t just the city’s addictive charm that drew these musicians to New York, but rather the ripe jazz scene that’s branded the city as a breeding ground for collaborative musical creation. Cantrall met his crew on the jazz scene, through the old networking tricks of “running into one guy who knows another” that is so popular in the game of ambitious young musicians. Cantrall enjoys writing for multiple horns, and knew he wanted “Axiom” to be a septet album because of his affinity of writing for combos.

“It started off with one of my close friends, Rick Germanson. We met in Chicago, so it started off with him and other players I know,” Cantrall said.

The album, like most of the jazz genre, is highly improvisational. Cantrall attributes the ensemble’s kindred musical connection as a reason the whole album came together over the course of two days, with only about three hours of rehearsal.

“It was astounding to me, too. I knew they could all play, but it came together very quickly,” Cantrall said, adding that the ensemble didn’t even do a second take for safety. “I kind of just knew, ‘We’re not going to get better than this right now.’ ”

The first song is the album’s namesake, “Axiom,” a name that appealed to Cantrall because of its definition: self−evident or irrefutable truth.

“I can’t say I was trying to prove anything with the title, but we only did one take of the song,” Cantrall said. ”The song had a strong truth to it.”

Cantrall wrote the song on the piano. The opening starts with a piano solo, and then a rhythm section builds before the horns breeze in later.

Overall, the album features seven original compositions and two reworked standards, Cole Porter’s “After You” and “Tangerine” by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger.

Cantrall started playing the trombone at 10. Of his instrumental choice, Cantrall said, “They were passing out instruments [in school]. My dad liked the trombone, and I kind of dug the slide, and that’s it.”

The trombone is not seen as often in jazz because of the technical challenges involved in playing the instrument. Its slide makes it harder to play as fast as the trumpet or saxophone, which have valves and keys.

“I think the best trombonists are the ones that are expressive and have clarity in their playing,” Cantrall said. “They can make a great musical statement with fewer notes.”

After eight years of honing his craft, Cantrall ventured to Chicago to earn two bachelor’s degrees in music and electrical engineering at Northwestern University. While studying engineering, Cantrall developed his playing and strengthened his composition and arrangement skills under the guidance of his teachers.

“I stayed out there a few years, and I liked it, but I missed the East Coast. I missed the music scene,” Cantrall said. “Chicago is a great town for music, but there is a smaller pool of musicians there.”

After moving to New York, where he picked up a master’s degree in jazz performance at Queens College, Cantrall continued to perform with salsa groups like Miles Pena and Los Hermanos Morenos and recording as lead trombone with the big band Cubarama on “A Tribute to Mario Bauza.”

“I was doing a lot of side−man work. Anything you can get as a trombone player is good work,” Cantrall said of his early days on the New York jazz scene.

But now the future holds exciting new possibilities for Cantrall and his ensemble. Though they are still nurturing their latest creation, plans for a tour abroad are in the works.

“I am working on now trying to get the band booked at festivals in Europe and Japan,” said Cantrall, who is writing new music for the ensemble. “We can push it here, but ultimately we’ve got to get out of town to play more often, otherwise working is sporadic.”

In the meantime, Cantrall and his ensemble look forward to “Axiom’s”

Nov. 19 release party at Smoke (2751 Broadway), which is one of his favorite jazz venues. The sets are at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., with a $5 music charge and $20 drink minimum.

For more information on the venue and upcoming shows and releases, visit

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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