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“Chasing The Unicorn” explodes out of the speakers with great urgency and high spirits.

Saxophonist, bass clarinetist, educator, and composer Roxy Coss has a new album, her third as a leader and first for Posi-Tone Records. “Chasing the Unicorn” features six original pieces plus works by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Lionel Loueke, Lennon & McCartney, and Willie Nelson. With her regular band, composed of Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums), the sounds explode out of the speakers with great urgency and high spirits.

The title track opens the album with the leader on soprano sax but also overdubbed tenor sax and bass clarinet.  That “full” sound plus strong solos from Ms. Coss, Wintz and Zaleski as well as the intelligent arrangement is rewarding for the listener. The tenor sax leads the way on another original “You’re There“, the music pushed along by Macbride’s active drumming. Ms Coss’s solo rides the percussive wave. Wintz and Zaleski offer good counterpoint as the solo continues.  The melody of “Unwavering Optimism” moves upward throughout yet notice the step down as the band moves into the solo section.

As for the non-original pieces, Loueke’s “Benny’s Tune” brings back the bass clarinet in a supporting role as the band explores the rhythmic melody line. The interweaving of piano and tenor sax while Wintz joins the rhythm section catches the ear as does the guitarist’s high-energy solo. When Ms. Coss re-enters for her tenor solo, she dances atop the bouncy rhythms.  “Oh Darling” (from The Beatles “Abbey Road“) maintains its bluesy feel but with a sophisticated touch, not unlike a David “Fathead” Newman approach to a “pop” tune. The Quintet darts through Joe Henderson’s “A Shade of Jade” with Ms. Coss’s tenor leading the way. Strong solos all around from the front line on the hard-bop track. Wayne Shorter’s lovely ballad “Virgo” puts the bass clarinet up front, a classy move, and Ms. Coss’s solo is quite impressive. But, pay close attention to the work of Zaleski, Rosato, and Macbride as they are quiet yet active in support.  The album closes with Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” – the tenor solo is reminiscent of both Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster in tone and attack.  Wintz’s guitar solo stands out as well.

Chasing The Unicorn” follows Ms. Coss’s “Restless Idealism” (Origin Records) release by 15 months yet feels like a giant step in her career.  One can hear in the maturity of the compositions, in her development on both the soprano sax and bass clarinet, and her work as a bandleader.  This is a group you’ll want to see and hear. Each member plays with strength and intelligence, adding to the songs in many different and often subtle ways. The faces of contemporary music are always changing, more young people are getting involved (even now, at a time when the business end of the “business” can be frustrating), and we are hearing news way to approach both tradition and change.  Give a close listen to Roxy Coss and this ensemble.

Richard Kamins

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Chance Meeting Lands Junior Role as Drummer on “Father Figure” by Michael Dease

mindset2A UT student drummer has made his professional debut on a recently released album.

Luther Allison, a junior jazz student in UT’s School of Music, recently recorded on jazz trombonist Michael Dease’s newest album, Father Figure, which was released on April 22.

When one of his professors recommended him for the drummer at the Jazz Trombone Institute summer camp in Brevard, North Carolina, Allison never imagined the doors that would open for him.

“My father would always tell me ‘Always be ready because you never know when people will discover you,’” said Allison.

Dease was performing at the camp and was impressed by Allison’s talent on the drums. It was there that Dease asked Allison to perform on his album.

In early October, Allison drove eleven hours from Hess Hall to Brooklyn, New York, to meet with Dease and other professional and collegiate musicians performing on the album. They spent the following week rehearsing, recording the album, and performing shows in New York and Michigan, getting little sleep and practicing through the night.

“I was having the time of my life,” said Allison. “I was sleeping for an hour and a half or two hours a night, but my adrenaline was pumping the whole week, so missing sleep wasn’t an issue.”

“I knew right away, from his phone interview, that I was about to meet a special soul full of passion and humility,” said Dease. “After our first rehearsal I was convinced of his immense talent, which is somewhat hidden by his sincerity and maturity.”

The opportunity to record with Dease allowed Allison to showcase his skills but also taught him a valuable lesson.

“The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is to pace myself, whether it be musically or in my life in general,” said Allison. “If this is the career path I want to have in the future, I have to be in shape mentally, physically, emotionally, and professionally to keep up with the lifestyle.”

Allison is already a disciplined musician. He practices five hours a day and maintains a 3.7 grade point average. He also takes to heart the advice and constructive feedback of his professors and mentors.

“Mentorship is something I think is imperative in bringing up the next generation. In order to be able to keep tradition going, you really need your predecessors to set the tone for what you need to do in the future. Dease did an extraordinary job in taking me under his wing and introducing me to other musicians. It’s both humbling and exciting—it makes me want to work that much harder because I want to live up to his expectations,” said Allison.

Recording on Father Figure has opened academic opportunities for Allison. He plans on continuing his education in music performance, with a focus on jazz, at the master’s and doctoral levels. He wants to perform and tour early on in his career but hopes to eventually teach at a university.

“Luther did a standout job in my band,” said Dease. “I’m proud to have captured those moments forever on disc, and he brought the highest level of attention, positivity, and skill to my recording session.”

Amy Blakely

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Downbeat hops on the trail blazed by Michael Dease on “Father Figure”

mindset2Michael Dease is an inventive trombonist with an athletically tuneful sound and a predilection for bringing his instrument’s voice to the fore. Having built the foundation of his career as a section player in bands led by Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove, he has now become a preeminent leader in his own right. Within his preferred artistic setting—the bop-oriented small group—he has recorded a number of fine recordings for Posi-Tone. Father Figure, his latest for the label, is as poignant a statement as he’s ever made. The album places Dease in the dignified role of jazz elder amid a crew of young and hungry jazz musicians: saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins and Markus Howell (who split lead duties on alternating tracks), drummer Luther Allison, bassist Endea Owens, vibraphonist Behn Gillece and pianist Glenn Zaleski, who appeared on Dease’s previous album, Decisions, and who exudes an almost telepathic bond with the trombonist. The two share the spotlight on an exceptionally swinging version of “Marian The Librarian,” and create swaths of dreamy magic on “Brooklyn.” And while Dease’s limber, flickering bop lines are an undeniable attraction (check the machine-gun tonguing on “Riff Raff”), it’s his ability to shape a group dynamic that really makes an impression. On group jams like “Church Of The Good Hustle” and Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation,” he blazes a trail that his young acolytes seem all too happy to follow.

BRIAN ZIMMERMAN   Downbeat site review

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Step Tempest gives us the guidance on “Father Figure” by Michael Dease

mindset2The brand new Dease disk, “Father Figure“, not only casts the trombonist in the role of leader but also mentor.  He, Glenn Zaleski (a young pro) and Behn Gillece (vibraphone) are the veterans in an ensemble that also features bassist Endea Owens, drummer Luther Allison plus alto saxophonists Markus Howell and Immanuel Wilkins.  Ms. Owens and Mr. Allison make for an impressive rhythm section throughout, her active lines not just supporting but also offering counterpoint while his cymbal work is exemplary as are his choices of when to “push.” Howell appears on 6 of the 11 tracks; he has a bright sound and many of his phrases joyfully dance above the rhythm section.  Wilkins, still in his teens, seems to have a more supportive role on his 4 appearances but does get off a raucous solo on the opener “Church of the Good Hustler.” Mr. Gillece appears on most of the tracks and his vibes sound mesh nicely with the different lineups on the disk. His rippling sound is a highlight on Dease’s “Brooklyn“, named for both the borough in which his family lives and also for his baby daughter.

There are numerous highlights throughout, among them the playful “Marian The Librarian” (from Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man”).  Dease and Zaleski caress the melody as the rhythm section dances delightfully in support. That quartet return to the Broadway and Hollywood hit for a sweet turn through “Till There Was You”, the melody lovingly played on trombone and followed by a jaunty solo.  Michael Howell’s “The Pursuit for Inspiration” is a medium-tempo ballad with Dease and Howell playing the melody – the young alto saxophonist plays a fine, assured, solo while Ms. Owens’ counterpoint stands out.  “Annette’s For Sure“, from the pen of trumpeter Claudio Roditi, is a sweet romp with strong solos from the leader, Zaleski, and Howell. The quintet (with Gillece and Howell but minus Zaleski) visit the blues on “Riff Raff“, a sweetly-played tune from trombonist Grachan Moncur III with excellent solos all around.  Gillece takes his over the rhythm section only and it really shines.  The title track closes the album on a bop-ish note with the leader creating a snappy melody and a sparkling solo (including a sneaky quote from “Parisian Thoroughfare” at the onset.) Ms. Owens take a short but excellent break before Zaleski shows off his Bud Powell-like chops.

With “Father Figure”, Michael Dease shines the spotlight on a fine group of musicians, several of whom he has worked with during his tenure on the faculty of Michigan State University. He’s generous with solo time for the members of the ensemble but don’t lose of the sight of the fact that he himself is a fine soloist, often with a most handsome tone. This music is a delightful way to spend the day.

Step Tempest – Richard Kamins

Posted on reviews “Father Figure” by Michael Dease

mindset2On his ninth CD (third for Posi-Tone), Michael Dease cuts loose with a wildly swingin’ post-boppin’ assemblage of talent on vibraphone, piano, bass, drums and two alto saxophones wherein the trombone man serves as Father Figure to some crazily talented youngsters and veterans alike (pianist Glenn Zaleski and vibraphonist Behn Gillece shine throughout) on originals and well-picked covers, or, as we like to say in the music-listenin’ business: discreeto pickos.

Leading off with a tune Dease wrote specifically with a scene from Robert Rossen’s 1961 film The Hustler in mind, wherein Fast Eddie Felsen walks into the home pool hall of Minnesota Fats, calling it the “Church of the Good Hustler,” he follows it up with “Brooklyn” (for his daughter, not the city) and “Cry of the Wolf” (they say the howl of the arctic wolf can be heard for 10 miles across the tundra. It’s a tortured, anguished sound.) Having two altos in your jazz band means you must cover Jackie McLean. Here, Grachan Moncur III’s “Riff Raff” is an exquisite recreation of a blues off McLean’s 1964 Destination Out album.

Having played in the band of Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi (as well as in the bands of Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, The Heath Brothers and Rufus Reid), Dease covers Roditi’s “Anette’s For Sure” before tackling Mulgrew Miller’s “Wingspan” and even “Marian the Librarian” and “‘Til There Was You” from Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway musical, “The Music Man.” He closes with the title track, written for his bassist Endrea Owens, who was his student at Michigan State University. It sounds eerily similar to “All God’s Children Got Rhythm,” the jazz standard which came from the 1937 Marx Brothers movie A Day at the Races.

Dease received his Masters from Julliard to quickly become an in-demand session cat on CDs by Alicia Keys, Paul Simon, Elton John and Neil Diamond. He’s now well on his way to becoming one of the most respected new ‘bone men in the business. – Mike Greenblatt

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“Father Figure” by Michael Dease gets reviewed by All About Jazz

mindset2Paying it forward is simply a given in jazz. Long before the music was welcomed in ivory tower institutions and codified for classroom consumption at all levels, seasoned musicians were sharing their hard-earned knowledge with aspiring youngsters on bandstands and in basements, serving as guides, exemplars, nurturers, and teachers all at once. Those experienced players were musical father figures, helping the next generation(s) along on their quest to join them, and that’s a role that trombonist Michael Dease aspires to on this, his third date for Posi-Tone and his seventh release in total.

Dease’s paternal instincts have, no doubt, grown by leaps and bounds since he took on a larger role in jazz education at Michigan State University and became a father himself. Both experiences feed into Dease’s need to do his part to bridge the gap between generations and bolster the ranks of those on the rise. Or at least that’s what this album seems to say. Rather than build a band solely around known quantities for this date, Dease decided to tap into the youthful stream of musicians out there who are ready and eager to make their move. All of his choices in that department prove wise. Bassist Endea Owens is the biggest revelation here, possessing a wonderfully wide beat, an incredibly fine-tuned internal compass, pitch-perfect intonation, and solid technique. Then there’s drummer Luther Allison, a player fully capable of working well in mellow and molten environments, and alto saxophonists Markus Howell and Immanuel Wilkins, strong-minded horn men who work well together and apart. Add to that list two established musicians—vibraphonist and label mate Behn Gillece and pianist Glenn Zaleski—and you have a solid band ready for action.

The eleven tracks presented by that band touch on the old and new. There are originals, songs from The Music Man, winners from the likes of trumpeter Claudio Roditi and the late pianist-educator Mulgrew Miller, and classics from the respective books of saxophonist Charlie Parker and trombonist Grachan Moncur III. This crew proves adept at handling all of it. They mine bluesy veins (“Church Of The Good Hustler,” Moncur’s “Riff Raff”), bop along with the best of them (Parker’s “Confirmation”), swim in strong Brazilian currents (Roditi’s “Annette’s For Sure”), and capture the pure beauty embedded in the music (“Till There Was You”). Everybody gets a chance to shine, but it’s Dease who shines brightest. His buttery tone, monster chops, and impeccable sense of musicality lead the way. He sets the bar high here, as any father figure would, and his bandmates rise to the challenge.

Dan Bilawsky  –  All About Jazz

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“Decisions” by Michael Dease gets reviewed by All About Jazz

When it comes to decision-making, not everything is black and white or right and wrong. On occasion there are multiple paths that can be seen as the correct choice, and trombonist Michael Dease truly understands that. Dease came to a significant fork in life’s road when he found himself in a position to decide whether to remain a first-call New York-based player or move to Michigan. He ultimately chose the latter option and it hasn’t hurt him one bit, as his career as an educator at Michigan State University has blossomed and he still makes his presence felt on record and in the jazz community at large. But in truth, either choice probably would’ve worked out just fine for Dease, as some life decisions can potentially offer multiple outcomes that all prove to be positive in the long run.

That experience can be seen as a parallel to making this album. Dease could’ve gone in multiple directions here, as there was no prescribed track. In the end, he put together a small group, paved a path that’s basically straight down the middle, and split the program between originals and covers, showcasing the lyrical qualities in his playing in various settings. Those happen to have been excellent choices, though the same thing probably could’ve been said had he gone in any number of other directions. Such is jazz, the art of album-making, and life in general.

Dease kicks off this program with three numbers that basically sum up what he’s about: his penchant for swinging scenarios comes through on trombonist Steve Davis‘ Jazz Messengers-worthy “Grove’s Groove,” his appreciation for earthier sounds is apparent on the funky “Jason’s Gonna Get Ya,” and his ability to put his heart into the music surfaces during “Trayvon.” Everything that follows can somehow be tied back to those three preferences or properties, but it’s not just Dease who’s working those lines. The other musicians take cues from Dease, amplifying his personality in the process. Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and bassist Rodney Whitaker deliver swing foundations in various shapes, forms, and gears; pianist Glenn Zaleski covers a wide range of emotions in his work, delivering bluesy banter, Ellington-esque swaths of color, comforting chordal gestures, and guidepost comping; and saxophonist Tim Green adds another layer of complexity to the mix when he appears, giving his two cents as a soloist, bringing greater energy to the music, and joining forces with Dease to add weight to the heads.

There’s a good deal of stability and uniformity in the direction(s) that Dease takes, but said consistency never has a negative impact on the way this album is received. While certain rhythmic and stylistic traits are endemic to many of his songs, Dease doesn’t compose or arrange from a mold. Each song speaks with a different voice and nary a bad decision can be observed here.

Track Listing: Grove’s Groove; Jason’s Gonna Get Ya; Trayvon; Gorgeous Gwen; Decisions; Right Place Wrong Time; Everything Must Change; Three And One; You’re My Everything; The Big D.

-Dan Bilawsky – All About Jazz