It’s the fifth release for Augusta, Georgia-born trombonist Michael Dease for the Posi-Tone label and as much as I like the current mash-up of all kinds of styles in Jazz, it is always good to hear the straight-up, traditional, swingin’ old school type, hand-crafted and honed over the years by this brilliant musician who started out with Illinois Jacquet and later played in various big bands. I still go back to his wonderful “Grace” album on the now defunct Jazz Legacy Productions label (2010) which had him playing alongside such greats as Claudio Roditi, Roy Hargrove, Eric Alexander, Mark Whitfield, and rising stars Sharel Cassity and Yotam. Back then, the album featured only one original composition, whereas he now has four of them on his latest.
And it is “The Chameleon Eye”, one of his own tunes, which grabbed my attention the most plus the fact that he asked vibraphonist and fellow labelmate Behn Gillece to play vibes with him (I wish he would have had more room on the album). Tenor and alto saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, illuminating throughout the record, plays the lead sax and solo on a refined and challenging rhythm where Behn and pianist Luther Allison also have airy spots. Even though Michael himself steps back on this particular tune, it shows off his great skills as a composer and sound architect. His own playing more than once remind me of the great J.J. Johnson, mainly from his 60s Impulse period.
Elsewhere on the album, he comes up with the Cedar Walton-penned “Something In Common”. Cedar himself played with Johnson in the late 50s/early 60s and it is the perfect vehicle to start things off here. Both Ralph Bowen on tenor and Walt on alto sax play their behinds off on this one. I also like Michael’s take on Conrad Herwig’s “Morning Shade”, a track I was not familiar with. Its backed-down character and flowing melody makes a lot of room again for both saxophonists. Bassist Peter Brendler has a lyrical solo on “Double Luminosity”, another Dease original. And there is a very nice shift in tempo with pianist Kenny Drew’s composition “Ballade” which he recorded for his 1961 Blue Note LP “Undercurrent” which also featured Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard. Michael’s ballad playing is fascinating, elegant and moving and has adequate piano accompaniment here. The opposite is the fast and furious “Blackfoot”, written by fellow trombonist Steve Turre. The breakneck pace on this one almost had me out of breath from just listening to it.
Both “Tipping Point” and “The Takeover”, two more originals, are solid midtempo swingers in good hard bop fashion and generate a lot of listening pleasures. Drummer Zach Adleman colors and backs all eleven tracks with aloofness and driving force where necessary. It is interesting to note that all three more pop-oriented covers on the album didn’t really work for me. They somehow sound odd in this context, not belonging to the final output, aliens in an otherwise well-oiled surrounding. There is Paul & Linda McCartney’s “Live And Let Die” which I never really liked, Extreme’s “More Than Words” which is veering towards kitsch, but the bad kind, and Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry”; the Babyface tune works best of those three with its bluesy touch in the middle section, but the creamy pretense of the original is coming to the surface too often.