Michael Dease’s humanity comes pouring out of his trombone on All These Hands (Posi-Tone Records). His 12 original, straight-ahead compositions trace the story of the spread of jazz across the United States, paralleling the African-American migration from the South up through the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard and reflecting the musical character of different cities and regions. Upbeat, open, and curious, Dease sings on his horn with a near-human vocal quality that makes this a personal and intimate statement from top to bottom. He is accompanied by a stellar cast, including Rene Rosnes (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), Steve Wilson (flute, alto and soprano saxes), and Etienne Charles (flugelhorn, trumpet). Special guests help out on several tracks, most notably guitarist Randy Napoleon on “Delta City Crossroads,” a soulful blues duet with Dease, and bassist Rodney Whitaker, who closes the album with a solo piece, “Up South Reverie,” a powerfully emotional performance that encapsulates the anger, displacement, perseverance, and hope in the African-American history. Among the numerous highlights are the dancing, big-band feel of “Territory Blues;” the sweet swing of “Benny’s Bounce,” which references Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” in homage to Philadelphia and which benefits from the light but propulsive touch of Nash on the drum kit; the party-hearty “Memphis BBQ and Fish Fry,” with its foot-tapping funk; and the sunny “Chocolate City,” which celebrates the role of the train.
Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and educator Michael Dease is one busy musician. “All These Hands” is his 10th CD as a leader and fourth for Posi-Tone. It’s a musical tour of the United States and how jazz moved from town to city to region. Dease has organized an impressive group of musicians with pianist Renee Rosnes appearing on seven of the 12 tracks, drummer Lewis Nash (6 tracks), bassist Gerald Cannon (5 tracks), Steve Wilson (flute, alto sax, soprano sax) and bassist Rodney Whitaker (4 tracks each), Etienne Charles (flugelhorn, trumpet) and guitarist Randy Napoleon (3 tracks each) and single appearances by tenor saxophonists Jason Hainsworth and Diego Rivera (on “Downtown Chi-Town“) and bassist Rufus Reid and tenor saxophonist Dan Pratt joining Dease, Ms. Rosnes, and Mr. Nash on “Brooklyn.”
The intimacy of “Gullah Ring Shout” and the easy loping “Territory Blues” (both tracks featuring only trombone, guitar, and bass), plus the sassy humor of “Black Bottom Banter” (a duet with Whitaker) illustrate the versatility of the leader. Dease can do “gutbucket”, smearing notes as if walking down Basin Street, as well as display the fluidity of J.J. Johnson in a club on 52nd Street. The trombonist knows the history of his instrument, its role in 20th Century Creative music (and more, such as when he displays his “multiphonics” technique a la the late Albert Mangelsdorff on “Gullah…“) but he foregoes technical brilliance in favor of telling these stories. He certainly loves to “swing” and to dance; can’t miss the joy on “Bennie’s Bounce” or the spirited, decidedly funky, three-way conversation of “Memphis BBQ & Fish Fry” with Ms. Rosnes (electric piano) and Mr. Wilson (soprano sax). Let’s also give him credit for big ears. The final track on the album, “Up South Reverie“, is a stunning unaccompanied bass spotlight for Whitaker, his friend and colleague from Michigan State University.
“All These Hands” not only pays tribute to the music born from the hardships, frustrations, faith, and dreams of African Americans but also to the dedication of musicians to keep the music alive. “Alive” here means not just in the classroom but also in the clubs, concert halls, living rooms, theaters, basements, etc, in the United States and around the world. Michael Dease is active both playing and passing on the tradition – we listeners and his students are the grateful beneficiaries of his dedication, talent, and knowledge.
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.
Gathering a hand picked bunch of all stars to make the trek with him as he brings his sound and vision to fruition, Dease and his bunch make a history of jazz recording that has no dust on it and sounds much more looking forward than looking backward. A dazzling set that’s striking in it’s ability to say something new here, this is more than a pleasingly swinging set that cooks. A solid work throughout, this is thoughtful jazz that doesn’t hesitate to cut to the chase and make it’s point. Exactly what the doctor ordered for that afternoon when you want to be alone with some jazz and let it roll. Killer stuff.