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Behn Gillece: Dare To Be

David A. Orthmann By

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It pays to listen to Dare To Be, Behn Gillece's second release as a leader for Posi-Tone Records, from the bottom up. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jason Tiemann are one of most congenial, articulate, and straightforward bass and drums team in recent memory. They're self-effacing, deeply focused and frisky. Regardless of the differences in the material and tempos of the individual tracks (not to mention additional percussive sounds fashioned by Gillece's vibes and Nate Radley's guitar) Okegwo and Tiemann make sure that the band stays centered and grounded. There's always enough space for the soloists to explore and create something fresh within the clearly established parameters. Conversely, Gillece and Radley are more than capable of making the music move without the bass and drums. Check out the relaxed ambiance engendered by just the vibes and guitar at the onset of "Camera Eyes," the disc's opening track; or, Gillece alone, patiently moving through the melody and accompanying himself during a good portion of the head of "A Time For Love," the record's closer.

Okegwo's broad, woody sound serves as the record's ballast. He's placed dead center in the record's mix, a good place to hear his every utterance. Listening to him walk—lifting, guiding and, at times, nearly carrying the music on his back—is one of the record's delights. Okegwo's role in the bustling, way up-tempo swing of "Signals" sounds natural and relaxed. The occasional deviation from his steadfast character, such as the addition of a few elastic triplet figures amidst Gillece's solo on "Drought's End," catches the ear in a very pleasing manner.

Even while Tiemann helps Okegwo hold down the music's low end, he speaks up to everyone's benefit. Accents on the head of "From Your Perspective" forge a zone somewhere between shrewd, controlled execution and brash exploration, when his strokes pepper Gillece's melody. Tiemann's conversation with Okegwo on the invigorating, bossa-funk of "Live It" foregrounds chattering rim knocks that are occasionally broken up by surprising, brilliantly timed hits to the snare and tom-toms. And, throughout the record, it's fun to listen to the sneaky, exhilarating ways in which Tiemann executes busy, multi-stroke fills. Like a thief in the night, he's in and out in a flash, making a brief, telling impact, and instantly returning to the business at hand.

Every bit as important as Okegwo's and Tiemann's work in the trenches are the ways in which Gillece, Radley, and trumpeter Bruce Harris (who guests on a few tracks) integrate themselves into the rich, firm foundation while making distinct impressions as soloists. Although I've heard all three of them function well in other contexts, throughout Dare To Be there's a genuine accord between soloist and rhythm section that elevates their efforts in particular, and the record in general, beyond mere competence. In broad terms, Gillece is an active, fluid improviser who, even when he's rapidly running lines up and down the instrument, is primarily concerned with telling a coherent tale. "Camera Eyes" is a good example of his sustaining a smart, cogent, emotionally compelling solo for a number of choruses. Radley's "Drought's End" turn deftly incorporates jazz, country, and funk elements, without shining a light or dwelling on any one influence. Harris, particularly on "Live It" and "Drought's End," finds his own space in the band's mix, deliberately working his way through a solo and allowing the listener to relish almost every phrase.

Anyone who has a yen for straight-ahead jazz in which each player makes rigorous, exciting and thought-provoking contributions that enhance the group as a whole is advised to take notice of Dare To Be.

Track Listing: Camera Eyes; From Your Perspective; Amethyst; Signals; Drought's End; Same Shame; Live It; Dare to Be; Trapezoid; A Time for Love.

Personnel: Behn Gillece: vibraphone; Nate Radley: guitar; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Jason Tiemann: drums; Bruce Harris: trumpet.

Title: Dare to Be | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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