Michael Dease drops The Other Shoe
only eight months after his last, Next Best Thing,
which was a neat and literate little small-band bouquet. This time, the front line is smaller with Dease on trombone (and occasionally baritone sax) and newcomer Virginia MacDonald on clarinet, an unlikely but compatible twosome.
Focusing on the compositions of Gregg Hill, the program will be unfamiliar to most, giving listeners open-ended expectations and the players few precedents to obey. The result is another fine showcase for Dease, whose instrumental excellence is well known. But MacDonald might have made a bolder debut by jumping into warmer water. She plays with a crisp fluency and has set herself up nicely for a second shot.
Although Dease can slash, swoop and shout with the best ("Scooter's Dream"), his default voice is a more feathery legato elegance that permits him to phrase with unusual precision and detail. His sound recalls Lawrence Brown, whose virtuosity in the pre-war Ellington band became an alternative to Jack Teagarden's suave swagger and pointed a path toward the wizardry of J.J. Johnson and Bill Watrous. Dease rarely uses a vibrato and serves each note clear and clean, permitting him to play free interludes with remark able control and coherence ("The Other Shoe").
Though born in 1945, Gregg Hill's work has only begun to surface. So far it has produced five CDs, including this and two others on Origin Records. His "Wake Up Call" is a bright and catchy stop-time opener that brackets a
swinging sequence of solos. "The Goodbye" is a straight traditional blues. Dease gets a worthy foil in Joel Perez on two tracks, and Geoff Keezer's piano sparkles.