For Michael Dease’s 10th album and fourth for Posi-Tone Records, the trombonist, composer and bandleader chooses to take us on a trip. An historical trip with twelve stops, that is, and the mode of transportation is his music.
All These Hands, out January 6, 2017, examines the birth and development of jazz as it moved from its New Orleans cradle, up to the Midwest and over to the east coast, eventually establishing its headquarter at NYC. As Dease has noted, the migration of jazz around the USA mirrored the migration of African Americans in the early and middle 20th century, and so an examination of the music form can’t be separated from the larger cultural and social phenomenon. Dease’s music traces the transformation of the culture through the transformation of the music itself, providing his most varied set of tunes he’s yet presented.
Enlisting the help of skilled vets such as Renee Rosnes (piano), Steve Wilson (saxes, flute), Etienne Charles (trumpet) Gerald Cannon (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums), and augmented by guest musicians on a handful of tracks, Dease once again sets out with a sharp vision and realizes it with sharp execution.
The breezy groove of “Creole Country” reflects the rich intersection of so many cultures centered in New Orleans; Dease’s diction is a string of perfectly placed notes and cadence. Charles’ own delivery on “Good & Terrible” outright sparkles. “Benny’s Bounce” is a sweetly swinging — Philly style — rewrite of Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” where Wilson’s alto sax solo makes the most hay. He returns to the flute for “Downtown Chi-town,” a song about the City of the Big Shoulders, depicted by Nash’s brawny rhythms. By the time we reach “Brooklyn,” the jazz is refined and polished; Rosnes is soloing over 4/4, then 3/4 and back again to 4/4 without any bumps.
Many of the best treats on All These Hands occur when Dease departs from the jazz ensemble in favor of intimate exchanges among fewer players; these tracks bring out the raw character of these musicians, reflecting the original mood of style they’re portraying if not necessarily the sound. For instance, to fully appreciate the blues from its Mississippi cradle, “Delta City Crossroads” features Randy Napoleon’s guitar lazily sparring with Dease’s audacious trombone. “Territory Blues” is a tamer form of the blues carried out again by Napoleon and Dease, with a bass added to man the groove. On “Black Bottom Banter,” Dease explores the simpler, eight-bar blues form with bassist Rodney Whitaker. “Memphis BBQ & Fish Fry” is as much funky fun you can make with a trombone, sax and an old Wurlitzer (in Rosnes’ debut recorded performance on one). Whitaker shows up again for “Up South Reverie” for an ardent, emotive a capella bass performance.
Dease goes it entirely alone on the intro “Gullah Ring Shout,” conjuring up a rural, ancient Southern religious ritual all on his own.
The history of jazz has been written many times over, but through new compositions Michael Dease convincingly conveys the history in the context of social upheaval and displacement. Through struggle came this joyful, triumphant music.