2020 was an unusual year to say the least, much in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in global restrictions, causing people to make drastic changes in everyday life. The situation was particularly challenging for musicians. For one thing, live performances were on hiatus, creating new problems for players who relied on performing live. In spite of these challenges, however, many musicians were persistent, finding ways to make the best of an unfortunate situation. Vibraphonist Behn Gillece
is one such example. Even with the setbacks, he has been actively recording, recently appearing on Out To Dinner
's Play On
, working as a session musician, and recording his own solo project, Still Doing Our Thing
For this album, Gillece assembled a quartet of musicians who have each made a name for themselves in the jazz world. He has also worked with most of these players on other Posi-Tone projects. These players work together very well musically. As he mentions in the album notes, "we have kind of a thing!" The core group includes pianist Art Hirahara
, bassist Boris Kozlov
, and drummer Rudy Royston
. Still Doing Our Thing
also features a guest appearance by fellow Out To Dinner band mate, Nichole Glover, on saxophone.
Gillece composed most of the material on the album, which also features selections by Royston, Hirahara, and Kozlov. The songs present different jazz styles, which seem to mirror the variety of emotions and experiences 2020 had in store. In fact, there is something of an implied message throughout that perseverance and optimism can help people survive even the most difficult times.
Perhaps this spirit is captured best on the title track. This driving and somewhat challenging song shows the musicians working together as a tight-knit unit. "Still Doing Our Thing" also displays the level of musicianship at work here. Each player takes something difficult and makes it seem almost effortless. Gillece explains how he wrote this song during quarantine, and that working in isolation was actually one of 2020's benefits. As he explains, "having the opportunity to compose and record during this time will always be significant to me."
In spite of the serious nature of the pandemic, Still Doing Our Thing
provides some lighthearted moments as well. The opening track, "Extraction," is one example. It's an upbeat blues-inspired number Gillece wrote after he had a tooth extracted. He explains how it is harmonically modal with certain blues elements included. He essentially modifies the traditional blues, making it somewhat playful. This playfulness also appears on other songs, such as "Rattles," which is another modal composition with free form elements.
Gillece clearly enjoys turning things around in an unexpected way. Perhaps the best example of this comes from "Back To Abnormal." The song's structure seems to reflect the wordplay in the title. Gillece takes a minor blues and turns it into something that could make almost anybody smile. As he humorously suggests in the album notes, "what goes better with an abnormal year than a nice minor blues?" Still Doing Our Thing
is an album that deserves repeated listening. It has a positive energy, giving a feeling of hope in times of uncertainty. Some of the songs even end with a bit of laughter from the studio, which adds to the optimistic vibe. Perhaps Gillece's comments on the closing track, "Don't Despair" sum things up best. He explains how he hopes that "the album can provide some much needed uplift in an era where handshakes and hugs are scarce, and we are often separated from people we want to see." In a world where not much is certain, it's a good thing artists like Behn Gillece are still doing their thing.
Extraction; Rattles; Still Doing Our Thing; Blue Sojourn; Glad To Be Back; Outnumbered; Event Horizon; Back To Abnormal; Going On Well; Don't Despair