Since his mid-'90s recordings with Sam Rivers and Reggie Workman, trombonist Julian Priester has maintained a low profile, his voice sorely missed. Well established through his work with Sun Ra, Dave Holland, Max Roach, and Herbie Hancock, the trombonist (approaching his late 60s) seemingly has recovered fully from the liver transplant surgery he underwent in 2000. His new recording, In Deep End Dance,
thankfully proves his relative silence is a thing of the past. Recorded just over 40 years after his debut as a leader and 25 years since his last session as a leader, Priester (originally hailing from Chicago and now residing in Seattle) has come up with a fully conceptualized recording. The first four tracks, including the jewel of the suite, "Blues Sea", are original compositions, and three of the final four are contributed by each of Priester's young West Coast bandmates. The trio's empathetic playing makes me wonder whether they were individually handpicked by the veteran or, more likely, constitute a working trio. Drummer Byron Vannoy has worked with one of the most unheralded West Coasters in reedman Vinny Golia as well as with Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith. He keeps things moving, playing in and out of time, successfully adding colorful cymbal splashes and accents, concise rolls, and unpredictable rhythms underneath Priester.
The sudden endings of "Ecumene" and the penultimate track, "A Delicate Balance", are the only hard cold endings on the entire CD, and the unfortunate jumpstart synchronized piano and drums which immediately come in as if the musicians began playing before the tape was officially rolling on the opening "In Deep", are the only drawbacks to the recording's fluidity. Otherwise, the album's-worth of seamless segues highlight the session. Brushes lead out of bassist Geoff Harper's "Thin Seam of Dark Blue Light" directly into the subtly stated bass opening of Vannoy's "Majatoto", which itself echoes cymbals after a beautifully frantic spotlight on his drum work, concluding with an overlapped unaccompanied raindrop piano intro to Clement's "A Delicate Balance". The waning moments of "In Deep" finds Priester unaccompanied, lingering on a warm though quietly screaming sputtered note which miraculously cocoons into the first moments of "Captured Imagination".
Very rarely can one boast of a recording that deserves attention from start to finish. Priester's In Deep End Dance is such a rarity.