Saxophonist Stacy Dillard's spirited energy is laced with nuance and intelligence and, while he's not shy of passion or feeling, everything he does is grounded in superb technique and focused and appealing ideas. Listeners who haven't been able to hear Dillard on the late-night (and even later) circuit in New York City can get a taste of his prodigious skills on two recent CDs
One is a thoroughly enjoyable release featuring Dillard on eight of his engaging originals. This CD is quality Dillard all the way and his choice of personnel for this venture is first-rate: James Hurt (Fender Rhodes), Craig Magnano (guitar), Amin Salim (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).
Dillard can play 'out' as well as 'in' or, if you like, inside-out. But he is perhaps best as himself, accessible and pleasurable to those with mainstream tastes as well as those whose ears appreciate some edge and innovation. "Three Sides (Ol' Faithful)" is focused and logical and well, fun, even across its almost 10-minute running time. And from there, the proceedings remain consistently high. "Still Waters" probes a more laid-back tempo and mood while the title track picks up the forceful theme from the album opener.
Tarbaby is an eclectic but ultimately cohesive undertaking from the "leaderless" ensemble of Dillard, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, now-former tenor JD Allen, drummer Nasheet Waits and guest vocalist TC III. It's natural to wonder what these musicians are about calling themselves what some consider a racial epithet. The band says they don't consider their name a "political statement." Rather, they're using it "as a metaphor for a stern rejection of all too common cliche in modern jazz ideology."
If all this sounds esoteric don't fret. This music itself is energetic and vibrant with an unpredictable, fresh, experimental feel and proceeds at a breezy pace. Dillard sparkles throughout but the shine is the glow of all, each member contributing originals as well as a piece each by Don Cherry and Trudy Pitts.
The recorded voice spliced into a hiphop milieu at the opening belongs to Bush-era White House press secretary Tony Snow. This kind of spoken-word injection is not unheard of in jazz but here Snow's "I don't want to hug the tar baby," repeated, with variation, is a bit startling, announcing that the music to follow won't adhere to the usual 'standards.' It doesn't. Evans' energetic, fast-paced "Iz Beatdown Time" registers playfully and features some of the composer's more rousing playing, but the piece has good parts for the others too, adding up to a satisfying experience. Allen's slower, at times ominous sounding, title track also has beautiful sequences for piano, but those sinewy lines are picked up to haunting effect by the rest of the band.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Three Sides (Ol' Faithful), Ageless, Still Waters, One, Over and Over, Stizzozo, MoMo's Smile, Untouchable.
Personnel: Stacy Dillard: tenor and soprano sax; James Hurt: Fender Rhodes; Craig Magnano: guitar; Amin Salim: bass; Donald Edwards: drums.
Tracks: Intro, Awake Nu, O, Being in Nothingness, Iz Beatdown Time, Othello, Psalm 150-2, Tar Baby.
Personnel: Eric Revis: bass; JD Allen: tenor; Stacy Dillard: tenor; Orrin Evans: piano; Nasheet Waits: drums; (guest artist) TC III: vocals.