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New Faces: Straight Forward

Paul Rauch By

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The collection of musicians on this record, collectively referred to as "New Faces," is an attempt by Posi-Tone producer Marc Free to create a sampler of the label's mission, utilizing a selection of young leaders to collectively personify their overall musical vision. As stated on the Posi- Tone website, "The entire series of succinct performances included on this album are deliberately intended to provide accurate practical auditory insight and representation of the musical aesthetics and operational ethos of Posi-Tone Records." This methodology is designed to allow the artist the ability to release material on a more consistent basis, through the supervision of Free and engineer Nick O'Toole. The album title, Straight Forward sums up the essential qualities of the Posi-Tone vision-there are no surprises here, as the music is very straight ahead, skillfully played, and collectively insightful.

Interestingly enough, only trumpeter Josh Lawrence, and uber talented vibraphonist Behn Gillece contribute compositions, the remaining tracks are penned by others including the Herbie Hancock classic, "King Cobra."

Lawrence has gained notable respect with his release Color Theory (Posi-Tone, 2017), featuring pianist Orrin Evans, and saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis. His contributions on this record, "Hush Puppy," and "Frederico," feature his laid back trumpet approach which is rich in terms of tonality and dynamics. His playing here lacks his perceived edge as a leader and composer, perhaps a bit restricted compared to his playing on his own recordings, and what I have personally witnessed live on the bandstand.

Brilliantly talented vibraphonist Gillece, and tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss provide the truly transformative moments improvisationally on this session. Coss, a notable composer herself, does not contribute her own material, but offers her deep, throaty tone, and thoughtfully probing solos, evident on her own recent recordings. Her talents can be gainfully witnessed on her prior two releases, Restless Idealism (Origin, 2016), and Chasing the Unicorn (Posi-Tone, 2017).

The opening salvo, "Happy Juice," sets the tone for this directionally straight ahead session. It highlights, as does this entire album, flawless facility throughout, and just enough special moments to make it a cut above. The full, deep, rich tone of Coss, the inspired fluidity of Gillece, and the laid back probing style of Lawrence foretells what is to come going forward. Bassist Peter Brendler presents a solid foundation that is so much more than holding down the bottom line. He is simply playing beautiful music, and clearly creates space and colored avenues of expression for this carefully assembled sextet. Drummer Vinnie Sperrazza provides a rich textural rhythmic approach that is fresh and exciting in a very Kenny Washington sort of way. He never overplays, but always provides intricate formative phrasing that is a delight to listen to. His contributions to the success of this session cannot be overstated.

Two of the three compositions featured from Gillece, "Down the Pike," and "Vortex," most genuinely assert the prescribed vision of this recording as expressed by producer Free. Gillece and pianist Theo Hill find a way to harmonically layer their playing as to not get in each other's way, with both providing sizzling examples of melodic improvisation while soloing. Hill, who has recently released a fine album Promethean (Posi-Tone, 2017), is a gem who has been garnering attention in New York in recent years for his brilliant ensemble playing, rhythmic understatement, and pensive soloing. Gillece is an active, fluid improviser who, even when he's playing lightning quick lines up and down the instrument, is providing a coherent and fascinating narrative. His virtuosity as a soloist, and ability to provide ample space for the solos of his mates, is the truly intriguing aspect of this album. This record per producer Free is designed to highlight the approach of the label, and the talents of their stable of artists. For this writer personally, being reintroduced to Gillece is the tonic that will keep me listening to this recording going forward. In addition, it motivates me to explore his music on record, not to mention future live performances.

"Vortex " takes the listener places the remainder of the tracks simply cannot. There is an ethereal value to the composition, melodically interpreted beautifully by Lawrence and Coss. It states the case clearly why artists should be left to their own devices as both composers and players. There is a free feeling within the structural boundaries of the piece, that allow for imaginative soloing from Coss, who is emerging rapidly as a major voice on both the tenor and soprano saxophones. Coss is as well, a voice for social justice for women artists in jazz. She has the rare innate ability to combine intensity and spatial fluidity, and invoke a sense of emotional dynamics. Gillece's solo is as beautifully rendered as any written piece could ever be. He has a clear and bright sound, an always open minded sensibility, and poetically rendered sense of melody in his playing. His talents, as amply demonstrated on his most recent release, Walk of Fire (Posi- Tone, 2017) are propelling him into the realm of modern vibraphone greats, such as Joe Locke, and historic giants such as Bobby Hutcherson.

It is a common methodology when attempting to describe music in words, to compare artists to the greats who have come before them. Coss has a deep attachment to saxophone icons such as Joe Henderson, and Wayne Shorter, for example. Gillece bears a certain resemblance to Bobby Hutcherson, or in a sense concerning the blues, to the great Milt Jackson. But it must be emphasized, and discovered through their recordings, that the artists highlighted thoughtfully by Posi-Tone here, are discovering their own voices, placing their own footsteps on the path on which jazz music travels ever forward into the mysterious musical abyss that the 21st century has provided. While Free and Posi-Tone have a hands on approach that is assisting this discovery in a very real sense, my hope is that this helping hand is not too firm a grip, and that these very talented artists are given the free space to create, to impact, to enlighten the elite jazz audience of today.

Track Listing: Happy Juice; Delilah Was a Libra; West Village; King Cobra; I'm OK; Down the Pike; Hush Puppy; Vortex; Frederico; Follow Suit; Preachin'

Personnel: Josh Lawerence: trumpet; Roxy Coss: saxophone; Behn Gillece: vibraphone; Theo Hill: piano; Peter Brendler: bass; Vinnie Sperrazza: drums

Title: Straight Forward | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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