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With an impressive group of musicians Michael Dease has acquired “All These Hands”

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.”

Because I’m a writer and not a producer, the choice of “Creole Country” as the opening track is puzzling.  Not that the song is bad – far from it.  The piece is a swinging tribute to New Orleans but, compared to the following track, “Delta City Crossroads“, a blues-drenched duet with guitarist Napoleon, the opener feels like more like a culmination of a history than a look at the source. Complaints out of the way, tracks such as “Good & Terrible” (which has the feel of mid-60s Jazz Crusaders) and “Downtown Chi-Town” (with the smart blend of trombone, flute, and the two saxophones) are splendid reminders of how jazz music takes in so many elements (blues, Latin rhythms, narrative, improvisation) and sounds fresh.  The interactions of Dease and Charles on “Chocolate City“, their harmonies and counterpoint, mixing with the intuitive rhythm section, pull the listener in.

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.

Richard B. Kamins – Step Tempest

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Just What the Doctor ordered, “All These Hands”, by Michael Dease

mindset2Gathering 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.

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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