Ever since Dave Brubeck brought tunes like “Someday My Price Will Come” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” into the jazz world in 1957, savvier cats have found a melodic gold mine from the Disney movie soundtracks. Some of these songs are so well known in spite of hardly being heard on the radio, musicians can get creative in their interpretations and listeners can still recognize the song itself. One of the latest to recognize the opportunities presented by a Disney song is the Dan White Sextet.
Led by and named after the group’s saxophonist, the nucleus of the six-piece band all met while attending The Ohio State University. White, along with Jon Lampley (trumpet, sousaphone) and Chris Ott (trombone), are completed by keyboardist Chris Ziemba, bassist Adam Deascentis and drummer John Hubbell, the hard bop ensemble have the dynamism, propulsion and soul that shares these qualities with another highly charged, Midwest-originated outfit in Derrick Gardner’s Jazz Prophets. Last fall the Sextet made a record, New York Sessions, that is a varied mixture of White or Lampley originals and covers that are imaginative both in the songs they choose and how they treat them.
I picked out a tune from Disney’s Mulan, because I’m so intimately familiar with the original. As the father of a big Disney princess fan, I’ve heard “Man Out Of You” from first a VHS of the movie, then a DVD and now, from YouTube coming out of daughter’s computer. I don’t mind this song about being macho in the face of adversity and seemingly insurmountable challenges, but I could stand to hear the number being played in a fresh, new way. Dan White Sextet to the rescue.
Ott is credited with this interpretation, inspired by recently performing along with White in the All-American College Band at Disneyland, and the first thing he does right is make the lyrical lines form the basis for how the melody is played. This is a strong, identifiable strain, like most Disney songs, and he knows there’s no reason to hide it. He employs the full force of the three horn line-up to weave the main harmony part and individual soloists — primarily White — in ways that approximate the lines without taking the easy way out and outright mimic them. Over the course of the song, more freedom away from the original is allowed by shifting tempos and pursuing tangents from the melody. By the time Lampley takes his solo turn, a variant off the theme is created. When Lampley hands off the soloing chores to Ott, the song gets lulled into a suspended state. Introducing a creative new chart as the song picks up steam again, the band finally moves back into the familiar theme, but with cat-like agility to dance around the tricky cadence changes.
The way the Dan White Sextet plays “Man Out Of You,” I’m seeing this song in a whole different light, and it’s almost like discovering it again for the first time. Now if I can only convince my daughter of that…
New York Sessions was released last September. Visit Dan White’s website for more info.