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Music Review: Cy Touff & Sandy Mosse Tickle Toe

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I admit that I’m not much of a brass instrument aficionado, but I thought that at least I could name most, if not all, of the modern ones. Everyone knows that woodwinds and reed instruments come in various scales, so you can get everything from a soprano to a bass saxophone.

But it never occurred to me that the same was true for trumpets. So I was surprised to find out that not only is there something called a bass trumpet, but it was the regular instrument of choice for a man named Cy Touff.

During the 1950’s Cy teamed up with another native of Chicago, tenor saxophone player Sandy Mosse, to form a quintet. They recorded and played together quite a bit during this period before going their separate ways. Cy continued to play in and around Chicago, much in demand as both a trombonist and a bass trumpeter, while Sandy went on the road during the 1960’s with Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich, before moving to Amsterdam in the 1970’s.

In 1981, Sandy came back to Chicago for a visit and Cy set up a recording session for them at Universal Recording Studios. Cy arranged for them to be accompanied by three younger musicians who were just beginning to make names for themselves; John Campbell on piano, Kelly Sill on bass, and Jerry Coleman on drums. It turned out to be the last recording that Sandy and Cy would make together as Sandy Mosse died less then a year later. Now, twenty-seven years later, the seven tracks laid down during that session, comprising over an hour of music, are being released under the title Tickle Toe by Delmark Records.

The tracks on Tickle Toe are a fair sampling of modern Jazz with works by composers as diverse as Ira & George Gershwin (“The Man I Love”), and Lester Young (the title track “Tickle Toe”). The session was more than just a sentimental reunion with two old friends trying to recapture some of their former glory, as you can tell by listening that both men obviously put their heart and soul into every note that they played while in the studio. The three younger men obviously responded to the level of commitment set by Mosse and Touff as their playing is equally intense, even though they were primarily providing support for the two leads.

I was intrigued as to what a bass trumpet would sound like, and how it would be used working in tandem with the more familiar tenor saxophone. If you can imagine a trumpet that sounds like a trombone, you’ll be on the right track, yet unlike other bass instruments which are primarily concerned with beat and rhythm, the bass trumpet, like its counterparts in the higher ranges, plays leads. Thus on this recording there is the rather unique occurrence of two lead instruments playing at opposite ends of the scale; providing compliment and contrast simultaneously.

Having this range available between the two lead instruments made for expanded roles for all the instruments in this recording session, with the bass especially being more involved in arrangements than I’m accustomed to hearing in most combos. This is particularly noticeable on the second track, “Centrepiece”, where Kelly Sill’s bass comes to the forefront for a lead. A lot of the time when the bass or drums play leads, they feel somewhat out of place, as if they’ve been grafted on as an afterthought. That’s not the case in this song, or any of the other songs where you hear it being played, as the way has been prepared for its appearance by the presence of a lead instrument of a similar tonal quality.

So far I’ve talked mainly about the novelty of the disc, yet what’s equally important is the fact that the familiar is done so well. The Jazz played by Cy Touff and Sandy Mosse is the style that the majority of people think of when Jazz is mentioned. While some people dismiss it because it isn’t as ornate as John Coletrane’s work, as free form as the work of the avant-garde, or as funky as the fusion boys, when performed by players of this quality, it’s as exciting as any other form of Jazz.

Sandy Mosse has a wonderful feel for the music that he’s playing. So it’s remarkably easy to get caught up in the songs. It’s the type of thing where you’ll be listening, and without realizing it you’ll find your foot tapping and your head nodding along to the music. This is the music that gave the saxophone its sexy reputation. There is a sultry elegance to some of Mosse’s playing that evokes romantic scenes of late nights listening to music by candle light or cafes on the Left Bank of Paris.

Jazz is many things to many people, but the one thing it never should be is boring or ordinary. In the hands of Cy Touff and Sandy Mosse the music on Tickle Toe is as exciting and vibrant as anybody could want. With the additional attraction of being offered the opportunity to hear an instrument as rarely employed as the bass trumpet, and the wonderful added dimension that it brings to the music, Tickle Toe will be a welcome addition to anybody’s music library.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.