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JazzTimes review of Michael Dease “Relentless”…

Michael Dease - Relentless cover


Michael Dease

 Like doo-wop, trad-jazz or rockabilly, big-band jazz is so closely associated with a bygone era that any musician testing its waters must find a way to transcend retro or just give in and drag out the charts from the swing era. Trombonist Michael Dease, on his debut big-band effort, transcends.

One way the bandleader—who’s led smaller combos and served as a prolific sideman—achieves that is by recruiting a stellar cast of contemporary players, each comfortable enough to comprise five percent of a team but also capable of stepping up to deliver a minute or two of compelling, bracing soloing. In addition to Dease, the band consists of five other trombonists (plus two others, including Wycliffe Gordon, guesting); five saxophonists (and another on a single track); seven trumpeters and a crack rhythm section: pianist Miki Hayama, bassist Linda Oh, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and Gwendolyn Burgett on percussion.

Dease is a dexterous traffic cop who knows precisely when to keep the ensemble swinging en masse and when to invite one of his chosen crewmembers to let go and blow. But the greater task at hand, at which arranger Dease and producer Marc Free excel, is how to shape the sound of a battery of horns to appeal to a modern audience. They do so by stressing the rich melodicism built into the compositions while allowing the musicians to go to town manipulating trickier rhythms and taking edgier solo turns.

“Two Bass Hit” eschews the angularity of both Miles’ and Dizzy’s interpretations but is in its own way even wilder. Randy Brecker’s “Roppongi” (with guest guitarist Andrew Swift) has more in common with Tower of Power than anything the classic big bands might’ve conjured. Of Dease’s own compositions, the title track’s loping airiness and the hard-bop intensity of “The Takeover” ensure that no one will ever confuse Relentless with a lost Glenn Miller session.




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SomethingElse features an exclusive track from Michael Dease “Relentless”…


Michael Dease - Relentless cover







Sometimes a cover song reveals a lot of the genius of the musician covering it. Michael Dease’s big band rendition of the Brecker Brothers’ “Roppongi” surely does that, but it also speaks loudly about the underappreciated ingenuity of the song’s composer, Randy Brecker.

The closing track from The Return of the Brecker Brothers (1990), it’s chock full of the dense Brecker Brothers’ funk and overflowing with chops from Randy and his tenor sax legend brother, Michael. It’s three or four discreet sections of different tempos and styles pasted together but somehow the song remain very coherent. Someone listening to the oroginal recording today might get a bit put off by the synth-laden late 80s production values that went along with all this inspired composing, arranging and performing, but not Dease.

Dease is well familiar with Randy Brecker and his music, having already covered his solo song “I Talk To The Trees” for 2010′s Grace and he goes to Brecker’s pen again with “Roppongi” for Dease’s first big band record, Relentless. The veteran of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, the Charles Tolliver Big Band and Christian McBride’s big band know his stuff when it comes to jazz orchestration and it shows with his own jazz orchestra. What Dease saw in “Roppongi” was a hard swinging, big-band tune masquerading as a contemporary modern fusion-jazz song.

The arrangement that Dease uses doesn’t stray from the basic structure or vision of the song, but simply putting it into the hands of a big band featuring young luminaries like Sharel Cassity, Tim Green, Etienne Charles and Linda Oh places it in a natural environment. Dease’s crew pilots it through funk, Cuban salsa, swing and even rock phases (thanks to Andrew Swift’s electric guitar). The highlight is the extensive trading of fours between Dease’s boss trombone and the lively trumpet of Alex Norris.

Truth is, Michael Dease adds freshness and imagination to the tried-and-true big band format all over Relentless across songs both original and standard. His big band’s take on “Roppongi” breathes new life into a little-noticed Randy Brecker gem, too.

Relentless, Michael Dease’s first for Posi-Tone Records, goes on sale July 8, 2014. It’s well worth checking out.


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Brent Black reviews Michael Dease “Relentless”…

Michael Dease - Relentless cover



If slow and steady does indeed win the race then watch out for Michael Dease as he is Relentless!
Brent Black /
I have to admit if I hear one more big band release this year then you can look for me at Home Depot in the length of rope and rickety stool department. The format is on the upswing yet the preconceived notion of predictability often has critics reviewing the release before they actually “listen.” Michael Dease makes his Posi-Tone debut with an all star big band that is straight ahead and swinging yet refreshingly original and inventive. When you have a large ensemble cast that includes such artists as Tim Green, Etienne Charles, Tom “Bones” Malone and Ulysses Owens Jr. then the bar has just been raised.
While Dease contributes four solid originals, the covers are deep catalog and slightly eclectic given the nature of the format. The Randy Brecker tune “Roppongi” includes rising star saxophonist Adam Rongo and guitarist Andrew Swift. The fabulous Wycliffe Gordon makes a cameo on “Autumn Leaves” and contributes some vocal flavor to the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Two Bass Hit.” The reharm on “Autumn Leaves” may be one of the better arrangements you might hear. “Two Bass Hit” is a foot to the floor battle with Dease, Benny Benack III, and Wycliffe Gordon. The winner? Too close to call! The Dease originals “Force” and “Webster Grooves” pop with individuality while never losing that accessible melodic bass line that makes Relentless such a solid outing. “Force” smolders with a more contemporary vibe while “Webster Grooves” goes full on hard bop.
This is a varied and slightly eclectic menu and that may be the key to success. The sound is the traditional straight ahead swing associated with the format and that is fine. The big band musical wheel does not need to be reinvented with arrangements this tight and a band this hot.
Simple as that.
















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Michael Dease “Relentless” is DownBeat editor’s pick…

Michael Dease - Relentless cover






Michael Dease, Relentless
Trombonist Michael Dease applied his extensive knowledge of big bands when preparing to record his sixth leader album, Relentless. “My big band is inspired by the sophistication of Ellington, the pacing of Basie, the fervor of Dizzy and the tumult of McCoy Tyner’s and Charles Tolliver’s big bands,” Dease said. This straightahead program consists of 10 Dease arrangements: four of his own songs, four standards and a song apiece penned by Randy Brecker and Eric Alexander. Dease’s song “Force”—featuring solos by pianist Miki Hayama, alto saxophonist Todd Bashore, trumpeter Etienne Charles and Dease—nods to the tradition of elegance in the big band aesthetic while also avoiding any stuffiness. Superb solos are the norm here, and trumpeter Greg Gisbert’s muscular attack is impressive on the title track. An intricate arrangement of Jimmy Dorsey’s “I’m Glad There Is You” showcases Dease’s mastery of trombone balladry. The fun factor skyrockets with a lively reading of “Two Bass Hit” spiked with scatting by trumpeter Benny Benack III, Dease and one of his mentors, Wycliffe Gordon, who also adds slide trumpet to this track. Like Gordon, Dease is an esteemed jazz educator, and Relentless includes one of his most democratic compositions, “Webster Grooves.” The track—which spotlights 10 soloists, including the excellent bassist Linda Oh—originally was written as a commission for the big band at Missouri’s Webster Groves High School, and it reflects both Dease’s sense of humor and his democratic sensibility. Big band aficionados (or any fan of straightahead jazz) will find plenty to enjoy on this classy disc.


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Joe Magnarelli and Michael Dease are both featured in JazzWax “discoveries of the week”…


C1010Michael Dease - Relentless cover







Joe Magnarelli—Lookin’ Up! (Posi-Tone). I’ve always loved Mags’ round, fleshy sound on trumpet. Here, he turns up the heat on songs like Third Set, Suddenly It’s Spring and John Coltrane’s Miles’ Mode—soaring up the lines and swooping down with sizzling intensity. On ballads like Darn That Dream and his original Blue Key (using a mute), we hear Mags’s broad tones and fondness for hanging around pretty melodies. A trumpeter who keeps getting better with each album.


Michael Dease—Relentless (Posi-Tone). This engaging big-band release features top-notch section players and soloists on tunes ranging from Duke Pearson’s Is That So to John Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie’s Two Bass Hit. But the real star here is the pen of trombonist Dease, whose arrangements have grace and punch and build smartly. Dease also is a gorgeous soloist.





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StepTempest covers Michael Dease “Relentless”…


Michael Dease - Relentless cover








Georgia native Michael Deaseis a multi-instrumentalist known mostly for his work on trombone but is also proficient on trumpet and saxophone.  He has established himself as a producer and sideman, appearing on dozens of recordings and gigs ranging from Alicia Keys to Illinois Jacquet’s Big Band to Neil Diamond to Maceo Parker.  There are a number of good reasons he’s such a popular musician – he can play any and everything plus he knows his musical history.

Relentless” (Posi-Tone Records) is his 6th release as a leader and first in front of a large ensemble. He has stocked the band with excellent players including saxophonists Tim Green, Todd Bashore and Diego Rivera, a trumpet section led by Seneca Black, Greg Gisbert and Etienne Charles and fellow ‘bone players such as Tom Malone and Jeff Nelson.  The first-class rhythm section featuresMiki Hayama (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and Ulysses Owens Jr(drums).  Wycliffe Gordon makes 2 appearances on the program, joining the trombones for the slinky reading of “Autumn Leaves” (nice marimba work from Gwendolyn Burgett) and switching to slide trumpet for “Two Bass Hit.”  On the latter track, Gordon, Dease and trumpeter Benny Benack III engage in some sprightly scat work while, on the former, there are a slew of short but strong solo before the leader sings a verse before the song closes out by returning to its opening “groove.”

Then, there’s “Webster Grooves“, an uptempo Dease original (4 of the 10 tracks are penned by the leader) with the feel of a blues shuffle (a la Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk“) that morphs into a “swinging” piece with excellent section writing and more short but hardy solos.  Ms. Oh, who is rarely heard on record in a big-band setting, locks in with drummer Owens, keeping the band on an even keel.  The title track lives up to its name, pushed mightily by the fine work of Owens and the smart work of the reeds and brass. “The Takeover” takes off on the strength of Ms. Hayama’s piano work but hits its stride when the sections play off each other, all of which leads to a fiery solo from Bashore plus a friendly “give-and-take” from trombonists Malone and Jerrick Matthews before Charles and Ms. Hayama take turns flying over the bass & drums.

Other highlights include a lovely reading of Jimmy Dorsey’s “I’m Glad There Is You“, a ballad that gives Dease the spotlight as both a soloist and arranger.  His dramatic arrangement for the bridge section is forceful.  Guitarist Andrew Swift electrifies the band on its heavy funk reading of “Roppongi“, a tune Randy Brecker composed for the Brecker Brothers Band.  Ms. Oh’s electric bass anchors the piece while Owens Jr’s drums propels the funk forward.  Eric Alexander’s “Little Lucas” is a medium-tempo ballad that opens with more fine work from Ms. Hayama before Dease gives the melody and harmonies to the sections.  Tim Green’s alto solo has a bit of a rambunctious edge, setting the stage for a strong solo turn from the leader.

Michael Dease understands the power of a big band and, to his credit (and our pleasure), these songs are filled with excellent section writing.  There are certainly plenty of fine solos but what stands out on each subsequent listen are the strong arrangements and first-class work of the rhythm section. Both recording engineer John Davis(Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, NY) and mixing/mastering engineer Nick O’Toole (Woodland Studio, Lake Oswego, OR) make sure we hear all the musicians, especially the superior efforts of Ms. Oh, Ms, Hayama and Mr. Owens Jr.  “Relentless” is the proper name for this appealing CD and it’s well-worth exploring.

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Wondering Sound reviews Michael Dease “Relentless”…

Michael Dease - Relentless cover


Michael Dease, Relentless: Solid big band release from trombonist Dease, who can always be relied upon for some tasteful, straight-ahead jazz, whether it’s a small combo or a large crowd on the bandstand. For this recording, he brings an entourage numbering the twenties, which is comprised of some heavy hitters on the scene, including bassist Linda Oh, trumpeter Seneca Black, alto saxophonists Todd Bashoe & Diego Rivera, and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. A big sound that hits with some force, but stays light enough to swing. A few tracks express some mainstream tendencies, but it’s faint enough that the cohesion of the album’s sound doesn’t threaten to crack. Released on Posi-Tone Records, which is pretty consistent with its big band offerings.

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Audiophile Audition coverage for Michael Dease “Relentless”…

Michael Dease - Relentless cover






Michael Dease – Relentless – Posi-Tone PR8127, 64:12 [7/8/14] ****½:

I’d have to say that Posi-Tone is two for two on current releases by Joe Magnarelli and Michael Dease. Both are great acquisitions to the Posi-Tone roster, and I’m hoping that they stay put for awhile. I can’t give enough plaudits to Dease’s new (and first) big band session as a leader. Dease has flown to the top of first-call trombone session men, as well as having five CDs already as a leader. He was part of the inaugural jazz graduating class at the Juilliard School. Last May his Coming Home CD on D Clef Records earned 4 stars here.

His latest effort, just being released, is something really special. The energy and arrangements on big band jazz issues is often inspiring, but many times you can only imagine what they sound like in person in an auditorium with good acoustics.Relentless has upped the ante considerably as its soundstage is wide, warm, and as crisp as a fresh ripe apple just off the tree. Kudos go out to the recording team of Marc Free, John Davis, Andrew Swift, and Nick O’Toole. Whether it be the range and power of Dease’s trombone, or the walking bass of Linda Oh, the sound is rich, crystal clear and a pleasure to hear on a quality sound system, or a trip to heaven with a good pair of headphones.

Song selection is top notch. Whether it be the tasty Duke Pearson track, “Is That So,” the classics “Two Bass Hit” and “Autumn Leaves” or the four originals from the pen of Dease, the all-star band handles them all with aplomb. Dease wrote all the arrangements.

These days when we are losing the last of our golden age masters, the future of jazz is in good hands with artists like Michael Dease, who have soaked up jazz tradition, and are ready to take over the mantle from their teachers.

A strong shout out of praise should go out to soloists, pianist Miki Hayama (who is featured on four tracks), saxophonists Todd Bashore, and Tim Green, and trumpeter Greg Gisbert. Let’s not ignore the fact, though, that  every member is an integral cog of this jumbo big band and all seem to get solo time. Special treats are the scatting of Dease, Benny Benack, and the inimitable Wycliffe Gordon (an early mentor of Dease) on “Two Bass Hit.” Dease even takes a turn on vocals on the closer “Autumn Leaves.”

Band members are primarily New York City residents, and although there is little chance in today’s market that they’d take the show on the road, at least Posi-Tone eases our longing with such a well-recorded gem. I’m hoping that they’ll be just as “relentless” in getting a second Dease big band session out within the next year. Fingers (and toes) crossed….



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Dan Bilawsky reviews Michael Dease “Relentless”…

Michael Dease: Relentless (2014)

Michael Dease: Relentless

While rising star trombonist Michael Dease’s previous albums have all been small group affairs, much of his sideman work has marked him as something of a large ensemble specialist. He’s put his slide to good use in numerous big bands and jazz orchestras, including those led by Christian McBrideCharles Tolliver,Roy HargroveRufus Reid, and Nicholas Payton. Given that information, it should come as no great surprise that Dease decided to make a go of fronting his own big band.

Relentless—the rising star trombonist’s sixth album, and his first on the Posi-Tone imprint—finds Dease in charge of a group that’s populated with other big band mainstays (trumpeters Seneca Black and Greg Gisbert), young jazz heavies (bassist Linda Oh, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., saxophonist Sharel Cassity), and a few welcome guests (trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and guitarist Andrew Swift). The program reads like a history of Dease’s commissions and musical upbringing. He reclaims arrangements originally penned for Hargrove’s group (Duke Pearson‘s “Is That So”), the WDR Big Band (Eric Alexander‘s “Little Lucas”), and the Webster Groves High School Big Band (“Webster Grooves”); he expands music previously recorded in a small group setting (“Relentless”) and looks back on his early attempts at writing for big band (“The Takeover”); and he reshapes classics that he’s learned to love over the years (“Two Bass Hit,” I’m Glad There Is You,” and “Autumn Leaves”).

Dease’s charts kick, swing, leave lots of room for soloists, and occasionally put each section to the test with fiery, finger-busting passages. It’s not all high energy, adrenaline-fueled music, but the most memorable performances—”The Takeover,” “Roppongi,” and “Two Bass Hit”—tend to get the pulse racing in some way.

Groups like this tend to be studio-made bands, not working units, so it’ll be interesting to see if Dease can get this group on the bandstand and develop what he’s started. It’s a unit with plenty of muscle, driven by a leader with boundless talent, so here’s to hoping that Dease can keep it afloat and help it evolve.