Michael Dease: The Other Shoe: The Music Of Gregg Hill
By Jerome Wilson April 14, 2023
Gregg Hill is a jazz composer favored by several jazz musicians who have recorded entire albums of his work, such as guitarist Randy Napoleon and bassist Rodney Whitaker. Here trombonist Michael Dease joins the party with a full album of Hill pieces arranged for a quintet. Hill's writing on this album delves into a wide array of conventional forms such as blues, ballads, and Latin jazz, but always with unique twists and ideas present. Some of his compositions sound akin to the early small-group recordings of George Russell. Dease gives these tunes a special atmosphere by using a front line of his trombone and the clarinet of Virginia MacDonald, bringing distinctive high-low harmonies into the music. The two lead instruments blend together especially well on the tempo-shifting conversations of "Scooter's Dream," the serpentine intricacy of "The Sleeper" and the mournful blues roll of "Hello, Blues." The piano duties in the band are split between Geoff Keezer and Luther Allison, each contributing their own style. Keezer often decorates the melodies, bringing a classy flourish to "Scooter's Dream," bouncing to a ragtime beat on "Wake Up Call" and elaborating the dramatic tone of "The Classic" behind Dease's and MacDonald's weeping interplay. Allison's contributions include honky-tonkish stride piano on "The Goodbye Blues," and rippling free runs which add a sinister tone to the melancholy "Summer Nights." Bassist Liany Mateo and drummer Colleen Clark are very adept at filling in the shifting accents and underlying rhythms which keep this music afloat. Mateo even gets an occasional solo of note, including a strutting turn on "Goodbye Blues." Other highlights include the polished Duke Ellington-like glide of "Shorty's Tune," where MacDonald sounds as urbane as Jimmy Hamilton and Mateo takes an elegant solo, and the rocking Latin groove of "Rio Mio" with Dease stepping out on baritone sax as well as trombone. Then there is the real surprise, "The Other Shoe" itself. This is a 15-minute work where Allison's trembling electric piano is set against pulsing bass and drums and brooding trombone, clarinet, and baritone lines. The music is reminiscent of Miles Davis' earliest electronic experiments. The instruments weave in and out of each other ominously and everyone gets a chance to stretch out, including drummer Clark. The music on this album consistently finds new ways of working within the parameters of conventional jazz composition. Gregg Hill's fascinating writing is brought to life beautifully by Michael Dease's arranging, and the playing of an excellent band The end result is one of the best albums of the year so far.
...Dease brings along a wide-ranging collection of musicians, each specifically brought in for their unique outlooks and talents, including clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, Liany Mateo on bass, and drummer Colleen Clark, among others.
MUSIC REVIEW BY GEORGE W HARRIS, JAZZ WEEKLY
Co-producer Gregg Hill has his compositions interpreted by the bold trombonist Michael Dease and the team of Virgina MacDonald/cl, Geoffrey Keezer-Luther Alison/p, Liany Mateo/b Colleen Clark/dr and a handful of guests. The addition of MacDonald's clarinet makes for rich ideas, as she's featured on the quirky "Wake Up Call" and her vibrato seduces on "Shorty's Tune". Dease has a horn that is big and brassy, going up and sown the scales on "The Classic", teaming up with fellow bone man Joel Perez on the Latin lover "Rio Mio" and sliding around Keezer's stride on "The Sleeper". Dease pulls out the baritone sax for the mood changing opus "The Other Side" which also features Allison bringing in some keyboard concepts and an extra pair of percussive hands. The compositions each have clever mood swings and veer off into various blue highways, making the sonic journey worth paying attention to. Brass tacks!
Two ways to purchase the album:
Updated: Mar 8
Oasis: The Music of Gregg Hill Rodney Whitaker (Origin)
The New York City Jazz RecordTwo distinguishing features of this album are the repertoire and the band. 10 of the 11 tracks were written by Gregg Hill, who only started composing after retiring from a career far outside of jazz. And the quintet led here by bassist Rodney Whitaker (who celebrates his 55th birthday later this month) is that rarity in jazz, a working group: one that comes together for gigs and projects with a rotating leadership of its members. They are Whitaker, Terell Stafford (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tim Warfield (tenor/soprano), Bruce Barth (piano) and Dana Hall (drums). Also worth noting: this is the third album of Hill’s compositions by Whitaker’s band.
Joining the quintet on 4 tracks is singer Rockelle Fortin (the bandleader’s daughter), whose voice is more memorable than her self-penned lyrics. She jumps into the opening track, “Betty’s Tune”, kicked off by the rhythm section at a barnburner tempo, her quicksilver words carrying the melody. The musicians race through their solos and a short shout chorus caps things off. Hill’s tunes fall squarely into the post-bop acoustic mainstream while exploring new avenues and possibilities. “Puppets” features overlapping meters; the form of “Sunday Afternoon” is 24 bars, with two A sections, but not a blues; and “S’Cool Days” is in the familiar pop song AABA, but 58, not 32 bars, the A’s 16 bars and B 10 bars. “To the Well” develops like a mini-suite, over dominant tom-toms, from drum solo to rubato horns to modal harmonies ushering in an exotic, processional rhythm.
That this is a working band is evident in the cohesion and subtle interplay of its members. Stafford and Warfield sometimes shadow one another’s solos with obligati, or most notably by intoning the melody behind the other’s solo, strikingly with muted trumpet and soprano on “Puppets”. The quintet also meshes perfectly in grooves like the minor key hard bop wail of “Minorabilia”, the loping swing of “Fan O Gram” and the greasy backbeat of the title tune. Their rapport is especially evident whenever they engage in trading fours.
—by George Kanzler