New Jersey native Liam Sillery began playing the trumpet while young, following his uncle in this endeavor. Collegiate studies started at the University of South Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree. Upon graduation he moved back to the New York City area where he freelanced for 10 years before entering The Manhattan School of Music, where he earned a Master of Music degree. On The Fly is his second recording as a leader.
For this recording Sillery enlisted the aid of West Coast musicians including saxophonist David Sills, on tenor saxophone, and the rest of his band, including organist Joe Bagg, guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Tim Pleasant. The compositions, all by Sillery or Sills with one tune by Lee Morgan, feature the quintet in performance of fairly straight-ahead 1960s-ish Blue Note Records styled compositions all falling within a nice mix of tempos. Standouts include "Fontok," a nice tune that employs a mid-tune stylistic-tempo shift that works to allow the soloists to play around with their ideas between contrasting feels. Sills' "Down The Line" is a simple little tune to provide the barest of melodies as a spark to soloistic maneuvering, thus allowing each soloist to work out their harmonic concepts in a down-the-instrument-line manner. Even though this tune, as well as "Sloe Joe," originally appeared on one of Sills' own records as a leader, it's still nice to hear it here.
While Sillery plays with a restrained confidence throughout and remarkably haunting beautiful flugelhorn tone on "Sloe Joe," and Sills, perhaps better known as a member of the Acoustic Jazz Quartet, is a solid straight-ahead player waiting for his big break, the real star of this recording is organist Joe Bagg. His feel, voicings and intuitional wit at every moment in every tune is spot on. Whether playing behind the melody or comping during solos, Bagg hits just the right notes at just the right volume with just the right feel every single time. It's not so much that he dominates the proceedings, rather it's obvious that without him these compositions and their subsequent solos would not have the spark and drive without him. He doesn't just prod the horn players on to some great work, it's that he builds with them, laying out the colors and alternate chord voices with such a refined sense of taste it's a wonder he isn't more of a household name ñ even though he has worked with Charles McPherson and Bobby Hutcherson, to name just two luminaries to request Bagg for their dates. Then there are his great bass lines. On "Neptune," for example, they are the ultimate in swinging harmonic support from the approach of how best to underpin and enlighten the horns playing above.