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Jazz Trail reviews “Force Field” the sophomore album by Sam Dillon

Force Field (PR8196)

Even boasting a very personal diction when discoursing, the young American saxophonist Sam Dillon brings an impressive amount of different influences to his ripe sophomore album, Force Field. Strongly inflected with the hard bop idioms from the 50’s and early 60’s, Dillon, who possesses an outstanding technique, offers a classic-derived repertoire bolstered by creative spins that show how swinging bop and post-bop traditions can be absorbed, transformed, and delivered fresh with a stamp of his own.

Dillon is primarily assisted by a rhythm section that comprises Theo Hill on piano, David Wong on bass, and Anwar Marshall on drums. However, he changes configurations, which range from trio to sextet, with the addition of guest musicians on selected tunes. They are alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, trumpeter Max Darche, and trombonist Michael Dease, who provides one of his colorful tunes to the song list, namely, “Go For The Jugular”. Flaunting a warm horn arrangement in a style reminiscent of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, this straight-ahead piece features all guests as soloists, with Dillon spearheading the sequence with rich Coltrane-isms that gravitate toward the unbeatable fluency of his Blue Train-phase.

Before that, the title track packs a punch with its grooving modal post-bop force and a scrupulous, dancing melody composed of attractive intervals. If the theme statement infuses a bit of the Sonny Rollins’ melodic charm, the rest is purely Coltrane/McCoy stuff, with Hill employing exuberant rhythmic spasms buoyed by opportune left-hand jabs, and Dillon oscillating between effortless roundness and smart obliquity in his lines. This spiritual atmosphere is partly passed to Dillon’s uptempo “Hit It”, whose main statement also incorporates that joyous briskness that characterizes the music of Lee Morgan and John Coltrane. Marshall is called into action here, exhibiting his drumming skills after effusive the solos and before the repositioning of the theme.

Hill switches to Fender Rhodes to bring that post-bop pulse-quickening to Chick Corea’s “Straight Up and Down”, another uptempo piece with a bouncy gait and incisive trumpet lines akin to Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. He continues to explore the famous electric piano in a sentimental rendition of “Marionette”, a discoverable composition by Swedish pianist Lars Jansson, which contrasts with the familiar bebop flow of Parker’s “Dexterity”, here delivered in the classic sax-bass-drums format.

With a relaxing bossa temper, “Shift” is the slowest and perhaps the less interesting tune on the record. Predominantly adhering to 4/4 motions and burning up the miles with characteristic sounds, Force Field is uneven, but still enclosing moments of pure jazz passion worth checking out.


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The aptly titled “Right On Time” is a great jazz achievement.

Right On Time (PR8191)

Ken Fowser – Right On Time – Posi-Tone Records PR8191 56:02 ***** 5 stars

On his eighth release for Posi-Tone Records, Ken Fowser has established his credentials as a composer and band leader. Fronting an impressive sextet (Joe Magnarelli/trumpet; Steve Davis/trombone; Ed Cherry/guitar; Brian Charette/organ; and Willie Jones III/drums), Fowser opens stylishly on “Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors”. With organ guitar and drums anchoring the bluesy jam, the saxophonist solos first with a concise straight jazz feeling. Charette follows on organ, displaying accessible soul chops before handing it off to Ed Cherry’s groove-based hooks. The composition (all originals) has chord modulations, a cool vamp and repeat chorus. With Latin-infused imagery, “Samba For Joe Bim” reflects the band chemistry, showcasing fluid sax runs and nimble drum accents. On “Duck And Cover” the group emulates straight ahead jazz with an agile solo on saxophone that segues to finger-snapping runs by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and trombonist Steve Davis. Charette’s sprightly organ percolates, driven by Cherry and Jones. The arrangement skills of Fowser are on display with “ No Filter”. The introduction displays harmonic elasticity as Fowser, Davis and Magnarelli intermingle with fluency. Every instrumentalist gets to solo with finesse and colorful inflection. It is classic jazz and consistent with great jazz ensembles of the past. The group reunites at the end with glowing texture and eloquence.

In a change of pace, “Don’t Let Life Pass You By” is structured by a gentler 3/4 time signature. Fowser’s “blue” saxophone has both delicacy and potency with the right amount of flourish. Charette’s airy, melodic solo is hypnotic and Cherry’s wistful guitar sways with relaxed inflection. There is an organic murmur inside the jam. Drummer Jones kicks off”On My Way” with attitude. This medium-swing number features dynamic solos from Fowser and Charette with several drum fills and syncopation. The horns return for “Keep Doing What You’re Doing”. Revisiting blues/jazz, the sextet glides with fierce precision, replete with “nasty” solos by everyone. When they combine it is a tapestry of in-the-pocket erudition. “Fowser Time” is a full ensemble arrangement with a triple lead (sax, trumpet and trombone). Charette anchors the rhythm section. Fowler gets things started with a muscular solo framed by a chord modulation. Davis’ saucy trombone is next and is followed by Cherry’s hook-driven run and Magnarelli’s crisp trumpet notation. Charette adds another soul jazz solo before the triple lead wraps things up with judicious timing. In a nod to melancholy, Fowser and Cherry share a harmony lead in a low-key waltz (“A Poem For Elaine”). There is considerable atmospheric resonance as Fowser, Cherry and Charette solo respectively. The finale “Knights Of The Round is vibrant and up tempo. The reed/brass combination is blended with adroit cohesion. In succession, Fowser, Manganelli, Cherry and Charette cook with ferocity. A well-deserved solo by Jones leads to the big finish.

The aptly titled Right On Time is a great jazz achievement.

Robbie Gerson – Audiophile Audition

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Michael Dease clearly continues to break his own barriers and push towards that sweeter spot with “Bonafide”

Bonafide (PR8188)

Trombonist Michael Dease was born in Augusta, Georgia. His propensity for the arts landed him at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet High School, where he studied saxophone, voice and trumpet. During his senior year, after sage advice from another Augusta, Georgia jazz mainstay, Wycliffe Gordon, Dease pointed his ambition towards the trombone, what would ultimately become his primary instrument. Dease furthered his studies at Juilliard School where he earned his bachelor and master degrees. His continued journey includes several awards, including a Grammy. He also serves as an associate professor of jazz trombone at the MSU College of Music.

His latest recording Bonafide is his sixth outing for Posi-Tone Records and features a venerable line up of trombone stalwarts, including: Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, Gina Benalcazar, Sam Dillon, with the deeply swinging rhythm section of David Hazeltine, Todd Coolman and E. J. Strickland. The album is a collection of exuberant performances of equally skilled trombonists covering a wonderfully fluid collection of tunes.

A highlight includes “Theme for Basie,” a fitting title for this melody. The Basie band was known for its balanced voicing and ensemble passages. The band also articulated the notes within the phrase as a unit, giving a clean and consistent color to each section. In this case, the trombone choir and one woodwind achieve the same concept. Dease leads the way as he splits the choir into melody and harmony parts in a call and response pattern with Coolman filling the spaces. The melody is beautiful, and the band hits it, everyone playing in that clean Basie style. Dease always has inner moving voicings that keep his orchestration a joy to listen to. His solo is simply amazing, he covers the full range of the horn with a focused and controlled sound. Dease’s lines are always melodic and build motivic ideas in a manner that swings hard. Hazeltine plays a beautiful solo with the bones colorizing with backgrounds. The trombone soli is Basie-esque in its presentation, but the lines are more like what Basie’s saxophone section would present. Another testament to the technical abilities of this group.

No jazz album is complete without a blues. In this case Dease gives us an outstanding arrangement of “Tenor Madness.” Of course, Dease plays with the feel and augments the melody and the result is a fresh approach to this well-known jam session favorite. The waltz time section is devoured by the rhythm section as Dease spins his magic. Clean attack, beautiful blue notes and crazy hip fast passages, and the arch up to emotional held notes. Coolman and Strickland make the feel of the changes seamless, but no matter the time signature, these two swing! Strickland is given space to show his chops at the end against a rhythmic ostinato. This is what moves the jazz heritage forward, creative reworkings of tunes we all know and love.

Dease continues to create signature pieces to his catalog. This, like his past recordings, is a delight to savor. Each release does seem to deepen its breadth, as Dease clearly continues to break his own barriers and push towards that sweeter spot with each offering.

Geannine Reid – All About Jazz

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4 star review from AAJ for the new one “Fast Friends” by Doug Webb

Fast Friends (PR8187)

There is nothing as soul cleansing as bebop. Period. When you couple the music with the sunshine of Los Angeles (OK, when the smog has cleared) there is a medicinal, tonic effect to be had. Enter L.A. session saxophonist Doug Webb, a contributor to film and television, and member of big bands led by Bill Holman, Doc Severinsen, and Don Menza. Fast Friends is his eighth release for Positone. His previous disc, Bright Side (2016) featured trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, guitarist Ed Cherry and organist Brian Charette. Before that there were sessions with saxophonists Walt Weiskopf and Joel Frahm, and Stanley Clarke, Larry Goldings, and Rudy Royston, to name just a few. The above names attest to the attraction Webb’s sound and sessions produce.

Since this recording emanates from California—Pasadena, to be exact—you might suppose the traditional West Coast Coolness. That’s not what you get. Think Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Buddy Collette, and Frank Morgan, all under the influence of Charlie Parker‘s 1947 California road trip as a reference for Webb’s music. The saxophonist power-washes several standards and some original music with the help of trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist Chris Colangelo and legendary drummer Roy McCurdy.

Webb’s “Last Train To Georgia,” with flavors of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” opens the disc with Webb and Dease interweaving horns before each player, including Forman, deliver condensed yet quicksilver solos. The music shows great attention to detail, with fastidious swing and economical solos throughout. Hank Mobley‘s “High Groove, Low Feedback,” from his early Blue Note recordings, gets the royal treatment with Webb soloing cucumber cool, that is, hot. Same for Dizzy Gillespie‘s warhorse “A Night In Tunisia” delivered briskly, and with all due respect. Webb though, isn’t (as they say) just another pretty (blowing) face. He canoodles the Jule Styne composition “The Things We Did Last Summer,” prompting a memory of Sammy Cahn’s lyrics with help from Forman. The two standout tracks here are Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha,” elegantly arranged as a dance between saxophone and trombone, and “Nopoló,” a big-shoulders barn-burning blues that each member digs into with both hands and feet.

Mark Corroto – All About Jazz

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Tom Tallitsch’s “Wheelhouse” demonstrates the continued vitality of the hard bop form

Wheelhouse (PR8185)

Wheelhouse is Tom Tallitsch’s fifth outing for Posi-Tone Records (eight overall) from one of the most consistently solid performers in that label’s stable of quality jazz performers. Though this 2018 release again sees the tenor sax master heading up a roster who have led their own notable dates for the label, but this one pairs Tallitsch with a trumpeter for the first time on a Tallitsch record, in the form of the talented Josh Lawrence. Also on board is Jon Davis (piano), Peter Brendler (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).

Combine the proven quintet format with Tallitsch’s penchant for penning memorable post-bop and hard bop tunes in the classic style, and Wheelhouse is akin to Blue Note pulling out a vintage mid-sixties session from the vault performed by label heroes Paul Chambers, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and the like. Even the spotless, analog-warm production by Marc Free evokes Rudy Van Gelder.

Though Tallitsch has been known to throw out an offbeat cover or two in the past, he sticks to all-originals this go around. “Wheelhouse” features a tale of two rhythm patterns, but when it settles into a swing mindset, Tallitsch displays that ingratiating, soulful tenor in full . Not one to leave a wealth of talent idle, Davis, Lawrence and Sperrazza get their own savory features as well. “Schlep City” is a blues-based shuffle where Lawrence’s trumpet spotlight more than recalls Lee Morgan. Sperrazza’s dynamic rhythm-ing drives “Red Eye” along as Tallitsch and Lawrence combine for funky lead lines prior to them taking turns on thoughtful solos.

Brendler’s bass pattern kicks off the slow swinging “Paulus Hook,” which has a melody imbued with melancholy nicely captured by Tallitsch’s aside. “One For Jonny” is a tender ballad, a choice opportunity for Lawrence to show off a lavish affecting tone. He later fills in some harmony behind the leader’s own heartfelt solo. To top it all off, the swaying soul-jazz of “Gas Station Hot Dog” hearkens back to the RnB-soaked numbers once championed by Morgan and Lou Donaldson, and Davis’ crisp lines here as they are everywhere else are delightful throwback to when jazz piano was played with a lot of soulfulness.

Tom Tallitsch’s Wheelhouse is all in a day’s work for this underappreciated tenor saxman, who once again demonstrates the continued vitality of the hard bop form. If that kind of jazz is in your wheelhouse, then this album is sure to be as well.

Something Else reviews

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“Interstellar Adventures” is focused keenly on tradition and searching beyond it

Interstellar Adventures (PR8183)

Interstellar Adventures makes good on the promise displayed on 2017’s Promethean, the young pianist’s debut for Posi-Tone, and 2015’s Live at Smalls, his first as a leader. It also far surpasses them in originality and pluck. Where the earlier outings, particularly Promethean, showed Hill to be an imaginative player with one eye focused keenly on tradition and the other eagerly searching beyond it, the new set finds Hill increasingly willing to burn bridges with his influences and carve out his own territory.

Like its predecessor, the new release is a trio recording, with Rashaan Carter playing basses and Rudy Royston drums. Half of its 10 tracks are penned solely by Hill, including the opening title track, which eases in cautiously, allowing the group to find its way around the melody before agreeing to embellish and discard as needed. Hill’s “Gyre” skitters, slashes and sways, leaving Carter and especially Royston to their own devices as the pianist, in an absorbing solo section, offers transitory single-note suggestions he may or may not choose to stick with very long. It’s almost giddy in its gleeful execution, balancing mathematical precision with frenzied abandon.

Of the covers, Tony Williams’ “Black Comedy” and Jan Hammer’s “Thorn of a White Rose” are corkers. Hill isn’t one to use velocity for its own sake; when he does, as in the former, he dazzles but his point isn’t so much to pat his own back as to keep the tune in constant forward motion. Royston, on the latter, nods to the megaton drumming of Elvin Jones, who cut the tune four decades earlier, but he never loses sight of the new places Hill and Carter opt to take it.

Jeff Tamarkin – JazzTimes

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“Humanities” has a shared sense of groove and interactivity

Humanities (PR8180)

The latest album from the esteemed jazz pianist and musicologist David Ake, Humanities swings buoyantly through a dozen tracks, mostly original compositions. The only cover on the album is a convincing translation of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” into a wistful, earnest ballad in the style of Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band. They showcase a wide range of emotion and timbre, from the calm, spacious “Drinking Song” to the playfully puckish “Rabble Rouser.”
Ake is joined by four stellar New York musicians, all close collaborators of his longtime colleague, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, who shines here alongside drummer Mark Ferber, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Drew Gress. The band makes the most out of Ake’s compositions through their shared sense of groove and powerful interactivity—the compositions afford this well, thanks to a melody-driven, improvisation-centered approach that draws from the well of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic precedent. Each musician shines as a soloist at various points throughout the recording, as well—and Monder is full of surprises throughout, with Ferber’s versatile stylings contributing to a powerful sense of groove throughout the album.

In his role as composer and bandleader, Ake has accomplished the challenging task of creating a deeply engaging document of egalitarian collaboration. The pieces do not go out of their way to showcase his skillful pianism, although this is evident in his solo flights on pieces such as “Hoofer” and “The North.” Ake even tips his hat to this commitment to collective engagement on the last song, “Walter Cronkite,” in which the famed newscaster’s voice is mixed into a spacious improvisation, admonishing us that “Being a democracy, we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders.”

Alex W. Rodriguez – Jazz Society Oregon

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Modernism that never goes out of style, “No Arrival” by Nick Finzer

No Arrival (PR8182)

Trombonist/educator/composer/arranger/bandleader Nick Finzer might be a member of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox but he’s still that same teenager who entered the annual “Essentially Ellington” competition at the “Jazz At Lincoln Center” series. On No Arrival (Posi-Tone), his tone is positive with swing, post-bop and the kind of. His originals are daring. They poke, prod and push his sextet to satisfying heights on music from Prince (“The Greatest Romance Ever Sold”), Leonard Bernstein (“Maria”), George Gershwin (“Soon”) and, of course, two solid and satisfying doses of Ellingtonia. Props to the swirling tenor sax and bass clarinet of Lucas Pino who serves as foil for Finzer’s ‘bone while a rampaging piano/guitar/bass/drums keeps things hopping.

The Aquarian Weekly

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Turn it up and feel the power of “Interstellar Adventures”

Pianist and composer Theo Hill, a native of Albany, New York, first studied jazz piano with the late (and, in her neck of the woods, legendary Lee Shaw (1926-2015). After graduating from the Jazz Conservatory at SUNY/Purchase, Hill moved to New York City.  Slowly yet steadily, he has built quite the resume working with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, trumpeter Wallace Roney, vocalist Gregory Porter, and many others. He has recorded with trombonists Frank Lacy and David Gibson; currently he holds down the piano chair in the Mingus Big Bang and with T. S. Monk. His debut album. “Live at Smalls“, came out on SmallsLIVE in 2014 and featured a quintet. Hill now records for Posi-Tone Records which released his label debut, a trio date titled “Promethean“, in May of 2017.

Hill’s new Posi-Tone recording, “Interstellar Adventures“, features the first-rate rhythm section of Rashaan Carter (acoustic and electric bass) and the sublime Rudy Royston (drums and percussion).  The ensemble alternately dances, roars, pounds, caresses, and glides its way through a program that includes five Hill originals plus five songs by composer/performers you could say are the pianist’s influences and musical mentors.  “Promethean” only had one original amidst the 11 tracks, with two composed by the late Kenny Kirkland.  You can hear the influence of that pianist’s appealing ballad “Revelations” as well as on Hill’s originals, such as the title track. It’s in the turn of a phrase or the attack at the beginning of the solo; not overt but there.  Hill also covers Marcus Miller’s “For Those Who Do” and one can hear how his flowing lines show that pianist’s influence.

Instead of looking and listening for influences, dig into the music itself.  The trio shines on Tony Willams’s “For Those Who Do“, a fiery number that flies forward on the propulsive bass lines and the thunderous drums.  Hill taps into those energy sources, builds on its intensity, and delivers a stunning performance. Sam Rivers’s “Cyclic Episode” may start in a gentler fashion but soon builds up its own head of steam. This time, it’s Royston responding to Hill’s flying fingers and matching him phrase for phrase, power to power. Carter’s bass is the foundation but he really captures the intensity. Hill moves to electric piano and Carter to electric bass for a romp through Jan Hammer’s “Thorn of a Wild Rose“, a tune the composer recorded with both Charlie Mariano and Elvin Jones.  The thick bass groove, the delightful cymbal work, and the leader’s strong piano work give the song a real lift.

Hill’s originals shine as well. After an introspective opening statement, “The Comet” thunders out on the power of the pianist’s left hand (a hint of McCoy Tyner here), Carter’s intelligent bass work, and Royston’s percussive storm. It’s breathtaking music at any volume but, played very loud, might just bring down walls. The album closes with “Enchanted Forest” with both Carter and the pianist going “electric.” The bassist gets the first solo, showing a melodic side to his obvious impressive technique.  Hill approaches the electric piano in a different manner, somewhat quieter, and enjoying the sonic capabilities of the instrument. It’s a placid finish to an imposing program.

The interaction of the three musicians, the intelligent compositions, and knowing the strengths of the rhythm section, all that and more makes “Interstellar Adventures” worth listening to again and again.   Theo Hill is making the most of his many and varied collaborations and sideman gigs, maturing before our very ears.  Going to be exciting to see and hear how he continues to grow.

Turn it up and feel the power:

Step Tempest

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Culture Jazz from France praises the new one from David Ake

September 17th was a beautiful day in New York. Around 7 pm, David Ake met the team he had gathered at the Acoustic Recording Studio in Brooklyn and less than six hours later, the contents of that disc had been recorded. The day before, the quintet had met a first time in order to quickly “fly over” the scores. And here is this jewel chiseled in a very short time by goldsmiths unparalleled! Humanities is again the magic of jazz that results from “the remarkable joy, the optimism that human beings can feel when they create in a spirit of mutual trust, respect and openness” writes David Ake ” despite all the difficulties, tragedies and political situation of the nation. A few days earlier, he had to evacuate Florida where he resides and take refuge with his family in North Carolina to escape Hurricane Irma. Let’s listen to what is happening here after the storm. A great lesson of jazz given in all modesty but with what fervor by magnificent musicians: David Ake, attentive and inventive pianist, Ralph Alessi, always relevant trumpet-poet, Drew Gress and Mark Ferber in a total rhythmic complicity and, the extra -terrestrial of this exceptional session, Ben Monder, quiet hurricane and stratospheric guitarist who enrubanne this music of electrifying volutes. Superb!

Culture Jazz France