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Dick Oatts: Use Your Imagination

David A. Orthmann By

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At two adjacent points in this admirable recording, alto saxophonist Dick Oatts makes riveting, emotionally resonant sounds that transcend matters of style, execution and technique. These memorable moments stand apart from the customary pleasures and somewhat cerebral considerations of lending an ear to a jazz record. In both instances, Oatts' isn't intentionally tugging at heartstrings or trying to manipulate the listener's emotions. During the last forty-five seconds of the solemn "Lossofyou," Oatts vividly evokes the fragility of human existence by caressing a handful of short, widely spaced notes. At the onset of the following track, with the help of trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, he animates the melody of Cole Porter's "Use Your Imagination" in a manner that celebrates life and its abundant possibilities.

Even when his horn isn't evoking specific emotions or conjuring human concerns, Oatts' improvisations convey vivid sensations that are integrated into a disciplined approach to the task at hand. Early on in the swinging, medium tempo groove of "Do Da Day," he glides over drummer Chris Smith's shuffle rhythm before transforming his tone into something dense and edgy. There are moments when Oatts turns down the heat or makes changes in emphasis, but they don't last long as he constructs a cohesive series of lines without any filler or pauses for reflection. During the jumping Latin-to-swing "Como Uno" he offers the briefest of respites from well-ordered activity in the form of several mini-climaxes. Later on in an agitated duo interlude with Smith, Oatts unrelentingly lands sharp, angular blows in response to the drummer's lively, persistent Latin rhythms. Throughout Oatts' "Lossofyou" solo his customary edge is tempered by careful construction and an impressive melodic invention. In a series of eight bar trades with Magnarelli during the subdued "Midwest Mideast," each man makes a complete, satisfying statement before passing the touch to the other. Oatts' contributions range from a shy, almost wounded sound to tightly coiled bebop utterances.

While Magnarelli doesn't necessarily pack the same emotional wallop as Oatts, throughout the record he engages the listener in a different way. The trumpeter's solos transform ambivalence into something approximating an art form. Magnarelli is a master of moving from an aggressive, hard charging run to a subdued, introverted note or two in an instant, and he makes these abrupt changes sound like the natural order of things. It's a strategy that he's been perfecting for decades, and his efforts, particularly on "Do Da Day," "Cumo Uno" and the title track, reflect a style in full bloom.

Dick Oatts is a jazz musician who has never taken the music for granted, became complacent, or stayed in one place. Decade after decade he's refined his art on bandstands and recording studios, as well as offered a wealth of wisdom to aspiring musicians in academic settings. Numerous recordings as a leader and sideman on the SteepleChase imprint have, in part, documented his progress in the company of like-minded peers. Explore his deep catalogue of recorded work in order to get an idea of how far he's travelled over the years. Or, simply check out Use Your Imagination and enjoy the current state of Oatts' artistry, secure in the knowledge that he's only going to get better.

Track Listing: Yesteryear; Do Da Day; Speaking Relative; Como Uno; Lossofyou; Use Your Imagination; Midwest Mideast; Game Show

Personnel: Dick Oatts: alto saxophone; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet; Anthony Wonsey: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Chris Smith: drums.

Title: Use Your Imagination | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Steeplechase Productions

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