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Randy Napoleon, Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill Review

By Sylvannia Garutch

Randy Napoleon has returned with a collective effort that is diverse and conveyed with an outstanding ensemble of talented, like-minded performers. The album centers around the music of composer Gregg Hill and is implemented by guitarist Randy Napoleon, vocalist Aubrey Johnson, and a stellar all-star jazz ensemble of Rodney Whitaker on bass, Quincy Davis on drums, and Rick Roe on piano. Special guest include Seth Edbersole on bass clarinet (track 5, 6, 7 & 8) & flute 3, 4 & 5), Brandon Rose on bass (track 2) and Will Crandell on drums (track 2). The album is titled Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill.

(The Album)..."is a beautiful collection of excellent compositions that are vehicles for this top-shelf ensemble to explore and create upon. Each composition has a balance of lyricism and appealing harmonic twists and turns. Napoleon is a gifted guitarist who shines brightly throughout the album, as does Johnson."

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Puppets: The Music of Gregg Hill and its cool and relaxing yet instrumentally stirring. Opening with Andy's Lament, vocalist Aubrey Johnson leads the way with easy Brazilian style scat. Randy Napoleon takes the lead and runs with a really solid Kenny Burrell style fluid lead improvisation and chord display. Bassist, Rodney Whitaker gets the second lead and lays in a really nice solo of his own before the circle back to Johnson, backed by Quincy Davis on drums. Very nice opener. Pianist, Rick Roe sets the stage on Lyrica, another track with a loose, Brazilian feel and featuring the vocal work of Lament and really showcasing the tight drumming of Davis. Napoleon's lyric lead style on guitar is likely the root of the track title with its free flowing melody continued by Roe on piano. Still Life of a Tuba is one of my favorite tracks on the release with its casual bop styling. Roe takes a really expressive solo giving the track real meat. Wrapping the release is Bossa style Wide River featuring Johnson and Napoleon on a light pop jazz track. With its sweet melody and solid delivery, the certain radio track of the release and a solid closer.

Randy Napoleon PUPPETS: The music of Gregg Hill

"...manipulating the songs’ melodies and magical strings much as a puppeteer would with his strings. It’s tight, inventive, expertly played music..."

Written by Joe Ross

— June 2022

Guitarist Randy Napoleon plays with precision and delicacy as he and his sidekicks present music from Michigan jazz composer Gregg Hill. Following their 2019 collaboration on Brothers, Napoleon’s vision for this latest project was to team up with vocalist Aubrey Johnson for a sweetly blended sound. Napoleon emerged as the lyricist for “Puppets,” “The Unknown Ballade” and “Wide River,” while Gregg Hill’s lyrics are sung to the “Truck Driver’s Blues.” Johnson embraced that combo and enhanced it with her own sublime vocal styling on all of the tracks. Rodney Whitaker (bass), Quincy Davis (drums), Rick Roe (piano), Seth Ebersole (bass clarinet, flute), Brandon Rose (bass) and Will Crandell (drums) brought the vision to life with deep sensitivity to the material and some fiery intensity on their own. Seth Ebersole’s flute conveys a light, breezy tag to “The Jazzdiddy Waltz,” “Lyrica” and “Moonscape.”

Recorded in Lansing, Michigan, the music on the Puppets album conveys many musical moods. There is tension and release, as well as several expressions of solemnity and whimsy. The diversity in Gregg Hill’s compositions ranges from the smooth tones of the opener “Andy’s Lament” to the high-stepping, energetic “Fan-O-Gram” with Aubrey Johnson serving as an outstanding modern creative stylist with Napoleon’s fluid, tasteful improvisation. Whether the bluesy “The Jazzdiddy Waltz” or relaxed “Lyrica” tickle your fancy, we hear an atmospheric approach to music that results in bountiful rewards of deep emotion and range of expression.

Randy Napoleon is a premier player whose attention to precision, intonation and time values provides bountiful rewards. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Randy cut his teeth on jazz in Detroit, moved to New York City, worked with Michael Buble and Freddy Cole, then in 2014 returned to Michigan as a MSU Professor of Jazz. That is where he met Gregg Hill, and their collaborations began. Together, they are manipulating the songs’ melodies and magical strings much as a puppeteer would with his strings. It’s tight, inventive, expertly played music pulled off with aplomb.

Order your CD today on at our Gregg Hill online store [Shop]

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