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Great first review for the new release “Straight Forward” by New Faces

The independent label Posi Tone Records has the mantra “…to provide the highest quality recordings of the most relevant musicians on today’s jazz scene.” Co-owners producer Marc Free and engineer Nick O’Toole have been doing just that since 1994.  It seems 2018 will be no different. Free assembled his New Faces group from musician members of the Posi Tone stable of artists and produced a very satisfying new album aptly titled Straight Forward which will be released on January 12, 2018.

It’s a group of like-minded, young musicians who, based on this successful outing, have a long future together if they want it.  The group includes Josh Lawrence’s trumpet, Roxy Coss’ saxophone, the gossamer touch of vibraphonist Behn Gillece and the young pianist Theo Hill with the rhythm section of Peter Brendler on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums.

The group offers a tight, well executed set of music; compositions  that were culled partially from the Posi-Tone archives, but also includes two original compositions by trumpeter Lawrence and three by vibraphonist Gillece. There is one Herbie Hancock composition, “King Cobra,” that is particularly representative of the 50’s and 60’s Blue Note era, a recording model that Posi-Tone has clearly fashioned their own musical aspirations after.

The set starts out with a Jon Davis swinger titled “Happy Juice.”  Right away you perceive a chorus of instruments-trumpet, piano, saxophone and vibes-that have acquired the ability to meld their individual voices into a complimentary, unified sound that delights the ears. Trumpeter Lawrence has a clear easy flow to his playing. Coss’s saxophone tone is mellow and lustrous.Pianist Hill is rock steady throughout, but it is Gillece’s tubular vibe sound that subtly dominates here, driving the tune forward as the rhythm section of Brendler and Sperrazza provide the rhythmic base.

What I like about this group is that they relish ensemble playing over lengthy individual solos. The haunting “Delilah Was A libra” is opened with a penetrating lead in by Gillece. Hill and Coss offer two short but poignant solos before Lawrence enters with a brief but potent trumpet statement. It’s the group speak that you come away admiring here.

On Brian Charette’s jaunty “West Village” the front line states the melody in unison, before Josh Lawrence’s muted trumpet solo raises the heat. A brief but imaginative solo by Coss leads to Gillece’s darting vibes play. The notes seem to take flight off his mallets like wood nymphs alit in a forest. This song was originally played by an organ trio, but here the group utilizes the additional instrumentation to great effect as Brendler and Sperrazza drive the beat.

The Herbie Hancock classic, “King Cobra,” is played by a tight front line stating the serpentine melody in unison, with a sound reminiscent of the old Blue Note magic. Pianist Hill’s repeated chord lines sets the time throughout.  Saxophonist Coss’s tone is buttery soft, uncluttered and warm and Hill plays nicely off her changes of direction.  Lawrence’s trumpet solo is well paced and understated. The music captures much of the electricity of the original recording.

The album continues with bright “I’m Here” which offers solos by Lawrence, Hill, Coss and Gillece respectively. The first of Gilcee’s three compositions on the album is up next with “Down the Pike,” a medium tempo swinger that offers some clever changes. Josh Lawrence’s’ driving blues, “Hush Puppy” keeps the proceedings moving with some Tyner-esque-like playing by Hill and a pulsing beat by Brendler. Lawrence’s muted trumpet, Coss’s mellow horn and Gillece’s vibes all add to the mix as Sperazza dazzles on traps.

Perhaps my favorite cut on the album is “Vortex,” a circular composition that features some of Coss’s most evocatively sensitive playing and spurs the vibraphonist/composer Gillece into some of his most exploratory adventures on the album. This one is bound to become a classic.

The music continues with trumpeter Lawrence offering a Latin inspired composition titled “Fredreico.” Sperrazza and Brendler hold down the Latin groove admirably.

“Follow Suit” is another Gillece composition that was clearly influenced by those sterling Blue Note years. The vibraphonist double-times his playing here as Brendler and Sperrazza maintain the torrid pace.  Lawrence and Coss both offer fiery solos and Hill’s piano solo is frenetic.

The set closes with the easy, feel-good gospel-influenced Jared Gold composition “Preaching.”

Not sure if New Faces was intended as a one off to start the year, but with such an auspicious first album, perhaps New Faces is destined to become a regular Posi Tone featured group.

Ralph A. Miriello – Huffington Post


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A great review of the new one from Behn Gillece “Walk Of Fire”

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece has been a fixture on the New York jazz scene for the past decade, notably in his project with one of this era’s great tenor sax player/composers, Ken Fowser. Gillece also has a cooker of a new album, Walk Of Fire due out mid-month from Posi-Tone Records and a show coming up on August 5 at 10:30 PM at his Manhattan home base, Smalls. Cover is the usual $20.

This is the most straight-ahead, unselfconsciously infectious stuff that the prolific, often ambitiously eclectic Gillece has come up with since his days with Fowser. The title track, a terse, brisk swing shuffle, opens the album. Listen closely to pianist Adam Birnbaum’s judicious, rhythmic chord clusters and you may get the impression that the song was originally written for Rhodes. Or maybe that’s just what vibraphonists come up with. Trombonist Michael Dease contributes a leapfrogging solo, and then the high-powered frontline – also comprising trumpeter Bruce Harris and tenor player Walt Weiskopf – are out.

Fantasia Brasileira, true to its title, is an easygoing bossa that Dease takes to New Orleans before Gillece ripples gracefully through the horn section’s big raindrop splashes.. Moodily resonant horns rise over bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Jason Tiemann’s blithe, latin-tinged, fingersnapping stroll in Bag’s Mood, Harris taking a low-key turn in the spotlight before the bandleader raises the ante.

Likewise, Dauntless Journey follows a balmy, allusively chromatic tangent out of Gillece’s resonant intro, maintained by Weiskopf, with brief elevation from Dease before the vibraphone subtly alters the groove. Battering Ram gives Weiskopf a launching pad for Weiskopf’s Coltrane-channeling, Dease’s contrasting gruffness and Birnbaum’s precise, rippling attack over quick, punchy, syncopation,

Gillece and Birnbaum blend subtly intertwining lines and then shift into separate lanes in the moody Reflective Current, a quartet number. Something New follows a similarly pensive, waltzing tempo: the point where the vamping grey-sky horns drop out completely makes a tasty jolt to the ears.  Specter, a catchy, vamping clave number, features Gillece’s most expansive but purposeful solo in this set and a welcome, tantalizingly brief confrontation between vibes and piano.

Break Tune has a subtle juxtaposition of steady, emphatic swing and allusive melody, echoed by Weiskopf before Gillece goes vamping and Harris spirals triumphantly. Artful metric shifts and Gillece’s rippling staccato raise the vamps of the concluding tune, Celestial Tidings above the level of generic. Marc Free’s production is characteristically crisp: the lows on the concert grand piano cut through as much as every flick of the cymbals.

Lucid Culture

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Jazz da Gama tells us how Behn Gillece cuts to the quick on “Dare To Be”

mindset2It takes but one ‘third’ to recognise the ‘hand’ of Art Tatum in ‘Willow Weep for Me’, a ‘flatted fifth’ to pick out Charlie Parker in any orchestral line up, a ‘seventh’ to do the same with Milt Jackson and while it may take a little while to pick out Behn Gillece from a flurry of notes, his vivid harmonic approach to the vibraphone is fast becoming his indelible signature, quite apart from the other two-handed vibraphone players out there as he cuts to the quick with every new song he performs.

Dare to Be is the record that puts Gillece in a maze of mirrors in which reflections of past masters of the vibraphone can confound a young player of an instrument glorified by the likes of Red Norvo, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. But certainly on this album, Behn Gillece breaks out. His ethereally resonant notes sound more knowing as the music on the album progresses. The positive surges of melody leap from a performance that juxtaposes utmost delicacy with eruptive power. Similar mastery of contrast makes Gillece’s account of a blues quite memorable and affecting. His playing is intensely alive to expressive nuance, textural clarity and elastic shaping, and his sound maintains a glow even at the most torrential moments.

Gillece has assembled a stellar group ion this rite of passage. Chief among them is Ugonna Okegwo, a bassist who, along with Jason Tiemann Nate Radley and Bruce Harris, provides the musical luminosity, spaciousness and zest from which Gillece’s fertile imagination takes flight. Ten graceful episodes fill this performance. Each is a gleaming gem, from the lilting melancholy of ‘Amethyst’ to the graceful spaciousness of ‘Dare to Be’ and the daring-do of ‘Trapezoid’ and the lilting buoyancy of ‘A Time for Love’. But no matter how virtuosic a performer you might be let’s be clear: you don’t adopt Jazz. The Music adopts you and it now eminently clear that it has taken Gillece under its wing.

Raul da Gama – JazzdaGama

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On “Dare To Be” there is a blend of vibes and guitar that creates a more open, airy, and at times ethereal quality.

mindset2With the recent passing of the great Bobby Hutcherson, inarguably one of the five most important jazz vibraphonists in the instrument’s (relatively brief) history, east coast vibist Behn Gillece’s new recording, Dare to Be, is coming along at just the right time. When an icon leaves us, it is natural to wonder who will fill the void, or who will carry on the legacy the artist established during his lifetime. Or, to wonder if that legacy will be carried on at all. Given that there are so few major jazz vibraphone recording artists, compared to on other instruments, the jazz world is lucky to have Gillece, Warren Wolf, and a rather small handful of fellow vibes players who are pushing the music forward, while clearly aware of and influenced by the contributions of Hutcherson and other giants of the instrument who are no longer with us.

Gillece has already firmly established himself as not only one of the best jazz vibraphonists of his generation anywhere in the world, but also an important contributor as both an instrumentalist and composer to the New York City scene, which remains, in 2016, the jazz Mecca. After releasing multiple albums as a co-leader with saxophonist Ken Fowser for the Posi-tone label, followed by 2015’s Mindset (his debut as a leader), Gillece is venturing out on his own here for the second time, with a collection of mostly original pieces. As is the case with Gillece’s previous recorded work, Dare to Be stylistically locates itself under the wide umbrella of the modern post-bop genre.

One notable difference with this latest recording is the inclusion of guitar, rather than piano, as the primary harmonic instrument—a decision which profoundly effects the overall sonic quality of any vibraphone project. In the past, Gillece has associated with some of the New York scene’s finest pianists, including David Hazeltine, with whom the younger vibist studied in years past. The decision to use young guitarist Nate Radley (a product of the New England Conservatory, and a protégé of John Abercrombie) gives Dare to Be a much different vibe, as the sonic blend of vibraphone and guitar creates a more open, airy, and at times ethereal quality.

The record opens with Camera Eyes, beginning with a rubato statement by vibes and guitar, which sets the tone for everything to follow throughout the next ten tracks. The composition features Gillece signatures: a tasteful melding of swing and Latin or straight rhythms, metric modulations, stop time/ hits, and a melody that is both accessible and compelling. Gillece uses this first track to also re-establish his aesthetic on the vibraphone; unlike fellow four-mallet players like Gary Burton, who employ an almost pianistic approach at times, Gillece improvises single-note lines. In this way, his playing is more reminiscent of the aforementioned Hutcherson. Gillece seems to be searching (and often finding) the perfect melodic phrase, connecting lines over the underlying harmony, rather than employing a chordal style during his solos. He saves chordal forays, of which he is most capable of executing with technical precision and a balanced tone, for statements of the melody and comping for other instruments.

Camera Eyes eventually settles into a mid-tempo swinger, a niche within which Gillece always feels supremely comfortable. One distinguishing feature of his playing is his impeccable sense of time—his lines never sound rushed or half-baked. Everything he plays makes musical sense, and strikes the right balance of theoretical/harmonic integrity and emotional content/soulfulness. Radley quickly establishes that he shares the vibist’s general approach, with a swinging solo that favors taste over flash.

The second tune, From Your Perspective, is an example of Gillece being completely comfortable in his own skin, as a composer. The piece is not blazing new conceptual trails, nor does it aspire to—it’s a buoyant, boppish melody reminiscent of any number of great records from the 50’s, and serves as a fine vehicle for vibes, and also guest trumpeter Bruce Harris, who seems somewhat cut from the same cloth as long-standing New York heavyweight Brian Lynch.

Amethyst takes the music in a direction this writer has previously not heard Gillece explore: slow blues. Radley launches into a chordal solo, and Gillece wisely stays mostly out of the way, adding just the occasional chord. Again, Gillece’s superior sense of time/groove is on display once he starts his solo—in fact, his work here is reminiscent of the great Milt Jackson, the most masterful blues player to ever pick up a pair of mallets. Gillece’s tone and touch are more delicate… just different… than Bags, but he understands, as the late master did, that for a jazz musician, time is everything.

Signals begins with a dominant seventh chord/sharp nine figure in the tradition of Horace Silver’s classic Ecaroh (which is “Horace,” spelled backwards). Soon, an up-tempo swing groove is established, with a nice half note-based melody that allows the vibraphone to sing. Radley almost sounds like Pat Metheny at times, but without the signature Metheny-isms (Radley has his own isms). He passes the torch to Gillece, who demonstrates an important truth about jazz improvisation: you need technique to burn, if you want your solos to sound relaxed and fluid. Gillece clearly has technique to burn—the listener gets the sense that if this tune was twice as fast (that would be very fast!), he’d still be able to hang.

In case you were questioning Gillece’s ability to make music with all four mallets, he opens Drought’s End with a short, arpeggiated solo intro, with dampening and subtleties reminiscent of Burton. The melody, played by trumpet and guitar, as the vibraphone lays down chords, reminds of the compositional style and tone of the great trumpeter Tom Harrell. Harris has clearly done his homework and listened carefully to Harrell (who, among serious jazz artists, hasn’t?). Radley’s guitar solo is both logical and satisfying, underscoring these said qualities conveyed collectively by the record’s improvisations. The vibes work here sounds relaxed and swinging… as usual.

Next, Gillece pays tribute to Hutcherson, with the hauntingly beautiful, simple Same Shame (from the Blue Note album “Total Eclipse,” featuring a young Chick Corea–arguably one of the finest from the entire Blue Note catalogue). Interestingly, Gillece’s improvisation here conveys the sense that he has appropriated all the best elements of Hutcherson’s vibraphone style—technical command, swinging time, deep harmonic knowledge, and love of melody—while crafting a personal voice devoid of direct imitation of the older master’s body of work. This is a gem of a tune, re-imagined convincingly here, and one can only hope its inclusion will spur more jazz artists to explore Hutcherson’s rich catalogue of original compositions.

Live It again is reminiscent of Harrell, by virtue of the upbeat, straight-eight groove and warm trumpet tone. Gillece executes some flawless double-time phrases during his solo, and seems to enjoy playing over these changes. Harris demonstrates a nice use of melodic simplicity and space, as the rhythm section of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jason Tiemann cooks underneath.

The title track sets up an Eddie Harris-esque groove, but the composition is contemplative and moody, rather than funky and groovy. This is one of Gillece’s more interesting compositions on the date, with a static harmonic vamp and staccato melody. Gillece’s short solo makes use of repeated note figures, before returning to the head. The track is tight, succinct, and seems like a good candidate for radio play.

Trapezoid is familiar (and welcome) Gillece ground—fast swing, with a half-note melody, a la Coltrane’s Giant Steps… followed by the vibist’s impressive, up-tempo vocabulary: arpeggios, cleanly executed fourth patterns, playing across the bar line, sustained notes, pentatonic runs.

The date closes with the beautiful, classic Johnny Mandel song, A Time for Love. It’s a nice way to close a record of mostly original music; the vibraphone is a perfectly capable instrument for interpreting a standard melody, without the support of a horn player. Gillece proves that here.

As a lifelong devotee of the recently passed vibes great Bobby Hutcherson, it’s comforting for this writer to witness the burgeoning career of Behn Gillece, as he continues to establish his own legacy on jazz vibraphone; as a thoughtful, virtuosic improviser and composer. Luckily there are still labels like Posi-tone, committed to supporting the efforts of Gillece and other worthy, young artists. Let’s hope Gillece will be making records for decades to come.

Anthony Smith – website

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Jazzed Magazine says the moment is right for Ben Gillece’s “Dare To Be”

mindset2As crazy as it may sound, learning how to be your true self doesn‘t happen overnight. It takes quite a while for musicians to get comfortable in their own skin, find their real voice, and dare to move forward toward their musical ideal. For vibraphonist Behn Gillece, that level of comfort is now a reality and the moment is right and ripe for such a move.
After releasing a series of well received albums in collaboration with saxophonist Ken Fowser and making waves with his debut – Mindset (Posi-Tone Records, 2015) Gillece returns with a new band and vision for his stellar sophomore outing. Using the great Gary Burton‘s Duster (RCA 1967) as model and touchstone here, Gillece convenes a piano-less quartet that focuses on the combination of his vibraphone and Nate Radley‘s guitar. The two complement each other in every way. If one takes off on a solo flight the other is there with firm yet cushiony comping; if one needs a boost, the other digs in the spurs; and if one is looking to move in a different direction, the other is always right there to make that a reality, amplify the intentions in the music, or, if needed, cut against the grain. It’s a perfect pairing, pushing the music to great heights at every turn.
The majority of Dare To Be’s ten tracks are originals that speak to the leader’s openness, cleverness, and melodic soul. “Camera Eyes” moves from a dreamy vibes and guitar rubato zone to full band swing with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jason Tiemann driving the car; “Amethyst” strikes the perfect lazy and loping pose, as bluesy and woozy thoughts carry the day; “Live it” – one of several tracks to bring guest trumpeter Bruce Harris aboard – delivers a highly catchy and cheery melody over a straight eighth foundation; and “Trapezoid” cooks with high heat and delivers one of Gillece’s strongest solo showings on the date. The two covers – “Same Shame” a husk of a Bobby Hutcherson vehicle that leaves plenty of room for exploration, and “A Time For Love,” a Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster ballad classic that closes the album – sit well in the mix, but Gillece’s own music is the real draw here.

Dan Bilawsky – Jazzed Magazine

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Bird is the Worm lays down the law on “Dare To Be” by Behn Gillece

mindset2There should be a law that compels every vibraphonist on the jazz scene to record one album per year with a guitarist.  Of the pool of possible combinations, the marriage of those two instruments is one of the happier pairings there is, and this holds true whether the form of expression is one that stretches out to the fringes of jazz or if the music plants itself dead center in jazz territory.  The newest from vibraphonist Behn Gillece falls in the latter category, and his Dare to Be match-up with guitarist Nate Radley is yet further evidence that a law is not an unreasonable demand.

The up-tempo “Signals” moves at a frenetic pace, with drummer Jason Tiemann and bassist Ugonna Okegwo providing all the rocket fuel they can get their hands on, but nothing about that stops Gillece from a patient lyricism to accompany Radley’s speedy guitar lines.  And when trumpeter Bruce Harris charges down the center of “Drought’s End,” Radley and Gillece exhibit their combo’s dexterity by circling around and meeting at the other side of the solo.

But the album’s best personality shows on the less conventional tracks.  A rendition of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Same Shame” has an alluring melodicism to go with a nervous tempo, and both vibes and guitar take advantage of the resulting conflict of emotional tones.  Opening track “Camera Eyes” opens dreamily, and very much suits the tranquil sighs from both vibes and guitar.  The chipper “Live It” pushes all-in on the sunshine with a catchy melody and a tuneful attitude.

Aside from the slow blues of “Amethyst” and a cover of Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love,” this is an album consisting primarily of burners.  And considering how up-tempo tunes bring out the best from vibes and guitar in their (potential) dual role as melodic voice and rhythmic support, it’s not an unwise strategic decision to adopt.  Similarly, scooping this nifty recording up also falls under the category of “wise decisions.”

Dave Sumner – Bird is the Worm