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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

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All About Jazz has great things to say about “Dare To Be” by Behn Gillece

mindset2When it comes to jazz vibraphone, the names of Stefon Harris and Warren Wolf are most likely to be found on a list of contemporary leaders. Add to that now the name of Behn Gillece, a gentleman who has been honing his skills on the New York scene since 2006. His talents first came to the attention of this reviewer having been a spirited voice on Walt Weiskopf‘s most recent albums, Overdrive and The Way You Say It. Last year, he debuted as a leader with the album Mindset, this sophomore offering coming fast on its heels.

Gillece has obviously taken in the history of his instrument, but speaks with a singular voice and purpose. His tone and attack are on the softer side, not unlike the work of Bobby Hutcherson. Also quite notable, he writes the majority of his own compositions. This too is a major factor in his clarity of purpose, along with the fact that his ensemble choice is an inspired one. A student of Jon Faddis‘ who is making a name for himself on the current scene, trumpeter Bruce Harris can be heard on three tracks. Gillece makes the most of the unique blend between horn and vibes, especially when it comes to the muted trumpet on “From Your Perspective.”

More integral to the entire set is guitarist Nate Radley, who is a perfect foil for Gillece. His chordal accompaniment and solo lines support the vibes in a manner quite different than a piano might do. The soulful “Amethyst” is a perfect spot to sample Radley’s tonal range, from single note riffs to dark and brooding washes of sound. Bobby Hutcherson’s “Same Shame” even finds the guitarist sporting a Frisell-like tone that is pure Americana.

Veteran bassist Ugonna Okegwo and talented drummer on the rise Jason Tiemann are also integral to the proceedings. Dig their tight up tempo slam throughout “Signals” or the way they inject a straight-eighth feel to both “Live It” and “Dare to Be.” As for Gillece himself, there’s quite of range of abilities on display here. Be it the burning bebop of “Trapezoid” or the mature ballad statement delivered on Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love,” Gillece gets down to serious business and he’s a name we should be hearing more and more of in the coming years.

C. Andrew Hovan – All About Jazz

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Behn Gillece new one “Dare To Be” reviewed by Midwest Record

mindset2The vibe ace might have dedicated this set to Gary Burton, but he tips the cap to Bobby Hutcherson as well.  And he probably has Milt Jackson in the back of his mind.  A different sounding set that what he’s turned in on past dates, Gillece is in command of his ax as well as his position as a leader.  Quite an engaging date that’s a real tonic for jaded (Tjaded?) ears, this is a swell serving of mighty fine sitting down jazz sure to get you shaking in your seat.  Well done throughout.

Midwest Record