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OASIS: "Post-bop Acoustic Mainstream...Exploring New Avenues and Possibilities."

Feb 2023

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


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