September 2008

Michael Dease - Clarity
Blues Back Records BB008
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

The trombone is a neglected instrument in jazz these days. It’s a bit ungainly and a hard instrument on which to play the quick flurries of notes that some jazz fans take as a sign of virtuosity. Yet some of the great instrumentalists in jazz played the trombone, including J.J. Johnson (whose recordings with Kai Winding were enormously popular), Curtis Fuller, and Frank Rosolino. Michael Dease plays with confidence and drive, and he has an impressive command of this difficult instrument. His curriculum vitae (Julliard Institute for Jazz Studies, stints with various jazz greats) might cause one to assume he plays with the studied precision that so many young players exhibit, but Dease plays with conviction, and he writes tunes that are a pleasant mix of the traditional and the new.

Clarity is Dease’s second CD as a leader, and he shows his composing chops right away with "Relentless," which has a wonderful bossa-nova bounce. Dease plays a well-considered solo full of melodic invention, and his band, including guest pianist Eric Reed and drummer Kenneth Salters, negotiates the complex rhythms with ease. Dease plays ballads, such as the lovely "Lullaby for Rita" and "Elusive," with subtle feeling, and it’s on those tunes that his writing abilities are especially strong.

Dease employs several rhythm sections on Clarity, and he demonstrates his talents as an arranger by using each player's distinct sound to create the effects he's aiming for in his songs. I might have preferred a bit more liveliness and definition in the recording, but it has a pleasing warmth that matches the music.