Michael Dease – Coming Home (2013)

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It’s been about three years since trombone powerhouse Michael Dease has released a record of his own but that’s understandable. As one of jazz’s most exciting mainstream performers of the current crop, he has probably been heavily engaged with numerous plum sideman gigs (Alicia Keys, Nicolas Payton, Roy Hargrove), starting up his own jazz record label (D Clef Records) and serving as producer on many jazz recordings over the last several years. Now, though, Dease steps out front again with another bona fide product of straight ahead jazz, entitled Going Home.

Christian McBride, whose big band Dease has played in, looms large on this album, lending his unsurpassed bass on every track. He also contributed one tune and is flanked by a couple of recent members from his own bands, Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums, co-producer) and Steve Wilson (alto sax). Furthermore, he makes a convincing and eloquent testimonial for Dease in the liner notes, proclaiming Dease’s talent “worth its weight in gold” with a “staggering command of the trombone (that) has rightfully made him the in-demand player that he is today.”

Truth is, Dease has been blowing away people of McBride’s caliber and everyone else for years now, and Coming Home is just another occasion for doing that, only with a different supporting cast who’s no less reputable than the gang who backed him on Grace. In addition to McBride and his guys, Renee Rosnes (Walt Weiskopf, Bobby Hutcherson, Gerald Wilson) on piano completes a perfect quintet.

Dease is the kind of musician who can play nothing but the real, pure jazz and get you charged up about it all over again because of the acumen and enthusiasm he invests into it. On Coming Home, it’s also due to the groove. Not the contemporary funk groove, but that Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers groove. This is most evident on his very crisp “Solid Gold” or McBride’s “The Shade of the Cedar Tree.” It’s also present on generous, suave swing of “Motherland,” “Lifewish,” “All Heath,” and Oscar Peterson’s “Blues Etude,” in which Dease demonstrates great rapport and coordination with another tasteful Canadian pianist in Rosnes.

Everywhere on these tunes, Dease plays so attuned to both harmony and rhythm, and free of clichés. His big band sensibilities come to the fore for “In A Sentimental Mood,” which adds another sax from Tony Lustig’s tenor to enhance the song’s elegance. Dease is on one turn sporting a velvety smooth tone and a weeping plunged trombone on another. His muted ‘bone featured on “Good & Terrible” is an unusual burly sound, not too far apart from Lustig’s baritone sax that follows it. Bebop fans should relish “Just In Time,” the highlight occurring early on when everyone except Dease and McBride briefly lays out as the leader sails through his insanely rapid, knotty lines.

Dease saves the best for last: a very rare cover of Freddie Hubbard’s impossible, high-octane number “Take It To The Ozone.” Everyone had to be on the top of his or her game to navigate the elaborate, rapid changes, and they were, confirming why top-notch music is usually delivered by top-drawer musicians. Beyond the tight harmonies successfully carried out by them are Dease’s effervescent rapid articulations followed by guest performer Eric Alexander’s own stirring expressions on tenor sax.

Then again, Dease isn’t one to settle for the easy stuff, even when it’s done in the service of simple beauty. Coming Home may mean a return to some of Dease’s musical roots, but for lovers of hard bop, this feels more like “coming home” to that music form’s golden days on the old Blue Note label of the 50s and 60s.

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Coming Home is now available for sale on D Clef Records.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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