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.