Bassist Rodney Whitaker grew out of the Detroit jazz tradition, paying dues along the way on the road with the likes of Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Kenny Garrett. His hard-driving style personifies modern post-bop jazz, with his dedication to tradition acting as a catalyst rather than a deterrent from innovation.
On Outrospection, Whitaker continues his work with under-the-radar, Michigan composer Gregg Hill. The two first collaborated on Whitaker's Common Ground: The Music of Gregg Hill (Origin, 2018), establishing the musical commonalities each employed despite disparate backgrounds both professionally and sociologically. While Whitaker personifies the urban Detroit jazz tradition, Hill hails from small-town, central Michigan. Somehow, Hill came to be known as a conduit of musical connectivity between modern jazz tendencies and the genre's most revered and revolutionary composers. His style cites flashes of Ellington-Strayhorn, Monk and Shorter.
The title track opens with trombonist Michael Dease leading the band into a Monk-like rambling melody which splits into a rollicking piano solo from Xavier Davis. With Whitaker and drummer Dana Hall joining Davis in the rhythm section, the stage is set for a session that joins Hill's compositional edicts with two of the deepest and most soulful jazz scenes in America, in the cities of Detroit and Chicago. Dease, one of the bright stars in the modern world of jazz trombone is happy to go along for the ride, offering gorgeous passages extended in tonal elegance.
"New Sunday" adds vocalist Rockelle Whitaker, the daughter of the leader, stylishly interpreting this Ellington-esque ballade. Diego Rivera delivers a tenor solo and sounds much akin to the vibe presented in the bones of the tune. His haunting, deep-throated sound bears remnants of Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves, illuminating the melody with notions of romance. "The Peace Song" alludes to Pharoah Sanders' anthemic, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," with Davis, trumpeter Etienne Charles and saxophonist Marcus Elliott shaping the tune into its own unique aesthetic both melodically and rhythmically. "Dollah Hollah" is Hill's homage to Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand), a jaunty skip-along melody that gives way to Charles' well crafted, theme based solo.
Hill has managed to gather all his collective musical experiences and harness them into a definable compositional style which blazes the trail with remnants of classic jazz composition synthesized with his modernist leanings. He is positioned well with the likes of Whitaker, a master of convening the right crew, and exacting the perfect vibe, into any project he chooses to undertake.
Outrospection is yet another recording made in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Each musician was socially distanced in their own isolation booths, and had minimal rehearsal time. The fact that the result is so focused and inspired despite the daunting complexity and sophistication of the music is remarkable. Jazz fans will always check the credits to see who is performing on an album aside from the leader and the title. Whitaker has assembled a multi-generational cast to perform music that might otherwise have flown under the radar of the jazz public. Their individual contributions to this collective effort is what ultimately makes this session memorable.