Cornerstone: A Review

By Michael Brown • March 01, 2000 • 3 min read

Cornerstone. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Patricia Yeo, Stephen E. Gerber, Wes Ross and Beatrice Bush Bixler, piano; with readings by Bill Pearce. A Die letzte Posaune Production, CD 83175.

"Cornerstone" is a devotional album consisting of arrangements for bass trombone and piano of gospel songs, traditional hymns, and contemporary Christian praise choruses. The music is supplemented by three readings crafted from scriptures related to the texts of the songs from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony, has obviously crafted a recording that is a labor of love. This collection serves as an evangelical witness to his deeply held Christian beliefs and as a fine example of his lyrical musicianship. The labor of love extends from his spiritual life to include his familial and personal relationships. Pianists for the album include Yeo's wife, Patricia Yeo and family and church friends including Stephen E. Gerber, Wes Ross, and gospel music composer Beatrice Bush Bixler. The scripture readings are rendered beautifully by a voice famous for the past 5 decades in Christian circles. Bill Pearce, the well known jazz/gospel trombonist with 30 recordings to his credit and 50 years of ministry in radio, provides a venerable and beautiful vocal tone to the readings.

This compact disc is consistent in style and message through all 16 tracks. There are no virtuoso displays, no complex variations of the tunes, and no attempt to bring undue attention to the performers. The goal is to provide simple, yet beautiful, performances of simple tunes with a straightforward and a non-apologetic message of hope and promise. For the trombone performer, the rich, velvety tone and the immaculate phrasing will be worth the purchase price. In the prodigious craft of Yeo, the bass trombone is an instrument capable of lyrical playing on the level of the cello of Leonard Rose or the euphonium of Brian Bowman. There are no flaws of intonation, tone, or technique on any of the tracks. Several selections employ overdubbing to allow Yeo to electronically perform duet versions of the tunes. While the arrangements are similar and all have musical merit, there are several good examples of the different shading of lyricism on this recording. His Eye is on the Sparrow has inflections of blues style that are reminiscent of Ethel Waters. Come Unto Him is particularly lovely in the duo section and the narration is a perfect foil to the warm and sensitive playing. The title track Cornerstone is indicative of the definitive pastoral performance that awaits the listener in this remarkably sensitive, yet simple recording.

The program notes for this CD are extensive. For the listener who wishes to learn more about the life and faith of Douglas Yeo, the program notes will provide a great deal of insight. The CD promises a companion collection of the arrangements for performers who wish to use these beautiful vignettes in worship services or for their own enjoyment. Yeo correctly makes mention of the fact that excellent arrangements in this milieu are difficult to find. The companion collection will be an exceptional resource for performers, as the CD is for music lovers as well as bass trombone aficionados. "Cornerstone" is a tribute to Douglas Yeo's musicianship as well as his faith, family, and life.