"...One of the Best Albums of the Year..."
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.