Showing off is not always a bad thing, as evidenced by Dana Hall's latest release, Into The Light
. On the album, Hall himself will not be contained, moving tempos and rhythms in new directions constantly, and he asks the same of his band mates. Each song takes the group in a new direction, showcasing the versatility of the unit and Hall's own ability to craft many different kinds of compositions.
The album starts with a Herbie Hancock composition, I Have a Dream. It starts with keys player Bruce Barth bubbling his melody between the speakers, and Hall starting out swinging on drums, seeming to become impatient with a given rhythm every few seconds. A few minutes in the band builds to a tremendous crescendo, and late in the song Barth has a light, joyous solo.
Conversation Song is the first song on the album written by Hall. Tim Warfield Jr. on saxophone and Terell Stafford on trumpet set the melodic "conversation" between themselves. Throughout the song, Hall challenges his bandmates and brings the best out of them, changing gears in the middle of their solos so often they can't get comfortable in a rhythmic rut.
Next is Orchids, which sports a wonderful melody that could be the theme to an old-fashioned mystery-hour radio show. Rodney Whitaker on bass gets a chance to step up front with a soft, delicate solo. Barth, perhaps the standout player on the album, also has a great bittersweet solo.
The title track, Into The Light, is the strongest track on the album. It is the highest energy track on the album so far; with Hall brining a vibrant joie de vie to his playing. This is the first time the band lets loose the reins, each bandmate letting loose, their sound surrounded by swirling reverb and other effects.
Black Mountain is another faster tempo number. This track exemplifies Hall's strength as a composer. His songs are dynamic, and ever-changing, with a fully realized structure that befits songs written by a drummer.
The sixth track, Path To Love, while still strong, is the weakest track on the album. It is far more one note than other songs, and less of a fully conceived composition.
Jabali features Hall in top form, keeping the listener guessing where he's heading next, playing jerky, start & stop riffs. Barth is unafraid to follow Hall's changes and explore atonal melodies. Six minutes in Barth has another tremendous solo, this one filled with high tension interplay with Whitaker.
The final tracks are compositions by other members of the band. Whitaker composed the phenomenal For Rockelle. The song's tone is set by the mournful intro. Hall has the aesthetic sense to take a back seat on this track, letting the rest of the best take an unhurried run through the melody. Whitaker also gave himself space for another great solo.
The self-assurance of Hall and his band makes this a memorable album if nothing else, but there is much more. The songwriting is interesting and daring, and Hall demands power and daring from every member of his band. All bragging rights are highly deserved.