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Jeff Denson & Joshua White: I'll Fly Away

Robert Bush By

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Jeff Denson has been alto saxophone legend Lee Konitz's bassist of choice for the past several years, and it's easy to see why on this superlative duet album of gospel music with the explosive pianist Joshua White, who, at age 28 appears ready to take the world by storm. White has almost twenty years of experience playing gospel music—obvious by the great liberties he uses to transform this music while retaining a visceral authenticity.

There are three radically different versions of the title track here, but the opening take on I'll Fly Away, is a stunner. Over the dark and wood-grain pulse of Denson, White expounds like a player-piano infused with the holy spirit, as well as a liberal dash of Cecil Taylor to keep it real.

Indeed, much of what makes this disc so satisfying is the open embrace of dissonant textures and audacious harmonic choices—which add depth to a program imbued with joyous consonance. Denson's pizzicato intro to "Down at the Cross," is deep, dark and soulful and White's sparkling lyricism compares very favorably to similar work by Keith Jarrett. The bassist begins his solo tour-de-force on "Amazing Grace," with throaty bowed harmonics that cut into the ether and it only gets deeper from there.

The tender exchange on "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," might have lapsed into the maudlin, but the pensive dialog sails clear with White's melodic cascades and Denson's resonant, Charlie Haden like tone. "When the Saints Go Marching In," emerges drastically retooled, and the two improvisers exploit the altered form as a vehicle to dart in and around oncoming traffic with spontaneous ideas. White's unbridled virtuosity is loosed on "Just As I Am," as waves of impressions pile atop each other in dense, violent layers.

Beautifully recorded by Adam Munoz at the iconic Fantasy Studios, in Berkeley, California, this recording captures Denson's huge sound in great detail, especially in the solo bass reading of "Crying in the Chapel," where it moans like a wounded leviathan. The delicate waltz of the penultimate tune, "In the Garden," begins with almost classical gestures, but by the time the body of the tune emerges—a more modern exchange of singing voices dominates.

One of the finest bass and piano discs to surface in a long time, I'll Fly Away, is worth seeking out.

Track Listing: I'll Fly Away (Version One; Lord I want to be a Christian; Down at the Cross; Amazing Grace; I'll Fly Away (Version Two); What a Friend We Have in Jesus; When the Saints Go Marching In; Just As I Am; Crying in the Chapel; In the Garden; I'll Fly Away (Version Three).

Personnel: Jeff Denson: double-bass; Joshua White: piano

Title: I'll Fly Away | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: pfMentum


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