Randy Napoleon has returned with a collective effort that is diverse and conveyed with an outstanding ensemble of talented, like-minded performers. The album centers around the music of composer Gregg Hill and is implemented by guitarist Randy Napoleon, vocalist Aubrey Johnson, and a stellar all-star jazz ensemble of Rodney Whitaker on bass, Quincy Davis on drums, and Rick Roe on piano. Special guest include Seth Edbersole on bass clarinet (track 5, 6, 7 & 8) & flute 3, 4 & 5), Brandon Rose on bass (track 2) and Will Crandell on drums (track 2). The album is titled Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill .
"Andy's Lament" is a relaxed blues that sets the tone for the album. Johnson and Napoleon blend beautifully during the melody. Napoleon's guitar solo demonstrates his fluid ideas and command of a complex instrument. Also of note is his warm jazz guitar tone and strong influence of the jazz blues vocabulary. Whitaker breaks from creating a steady swinging pulse for the ensemble to perform a melodic bass solo.
"Fanogram" is an energetic bop-style melody showing Johnson's skill as an ensemble instrument and soloist. Guest Crandell (drums) and Rose (bass) join the ensemble on this selection to lay down a hard-swinging feel for the duration. Napoleon's solo skates through the harmony with a flowing eighth note consistency, showing the power of his melodic ideas through the chords. Roe's solo builds too, as he delivers a statement that is lyrical and robust in colors. Johnson's wordless scatting with bop phrasing and articulation adds to the interest of the song.
Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill is a beautiful collection of excellent compositions that are vehicles for this top-shelf ensemble to explore and create upon. Each composition has a balance of lyricism and appealing harmonic twists and turns. Napoleon is a gifted guitarist who shines brightly throughout the album, as does Johnson.