10th June 2010 — In just seven years on the New York scene, trombonist Michael Dease has appeared on over fifty albums as a sideman, performed in every major jazz venue, and worked alongside many of the giants of this music. And now his latest CD, Grace - Dease’s fourth as a leader and his first for Jazz Legacy Productions - affords him a much deserved opportunity to display his musical range and versatility as an instrumentalist, thanks to the vision of bassist, producer, and the label’s founder, John Lee.
“I met John at the Village Vanguard in September 2007,” Dease recalls, “when I was playing with Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones, and since then we’ve been working closely together. He asked me to join his band, Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars. Then I was producing a recording for saxophonist Sharel Cassity - I also participated as a sideman on that record - and John was interested in having her as a young artist for his new label Jazz Legacy Productions. When we were gearing up for Sharel’s CD release in 2009 he asked me if I would be another one of the JLP’s young artists. Of course I was very excited to have John produce my album, with his vast experience and insight.”
In choosing the songs for Grace, Lee coupled that insight with Dease’s own musical knowledge, selecting mostly lesser known, seldom played pieces by some of the legends of jazz - “26-2” by John Coltrane, “Tippin’” by Oscar Peterson, “Blues on the Corner” by McCoy Tyner, “Toys” by Herbie Hancock. “John and I put our heads together,” Dease continues, “and looked for tunes that would come alive with the trombone as the lead voice. And we wanted to pick material that hasn’t been recorded too often. So we were mining the minds of geniuses to find these great songs, then realizing them with the trombone’s natural melodic capabilities.”
And although Miles Davis’ “Four” is one of the trumpeter’s best known tunes, Dease slows this normally bright number down to a ballad tempo, allowing the listener to fully savor one of the prettiest melodies in modern jazz. Then he pulls out his tenor saxophone - his first instrument - for a delightful half-chorus. “That was another suggestion of John’s,” he explains, “ and considering my early roots in music as a saxophonist, I took the opportunity to get back into the shed and see how it worked out.” Drawn from opposite poles of jazz history are Bix Beiderbecke’s classic “In a Mist,” in treatment that blends the impression of Beiderbecke with the lyrical expressionism of Freddie Hubbard, and Randy Brecker’s contemporary “I Talk to the Trees.” Arranged by Dease and John Lee, Brecker’s piece becomes a study in rich textures and exotic voices, featuring a five-piece horn section enhanced by another texture, the vibrant percussion ensemble, Roger Squitero and Circle Rhythm, which also performs on three other tunes.
While Grace’s twelve tracks comprise a wide array of formats and instrumentations, each features the same stellar rhythm section. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut, a fellow Jazz Legacy Productions young artist (Spirit, JLP 0901002), Dease notes, “has already demonstrated his versatility as a first-call sideman and a masterful accompanist. He can swing you under the table, and on the more adventurous songs he shows an incredibly fertile and tasteful imagination.” Dease met drummer Gene Jackson when they both were playing with trumpeter Charles Tolliver’s big band. “I was immediately impressed with his power and subtlety on the kit. He’s learned so much from his wide array of experiences playing with legends like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and I wanted that to be a facet of this project.” And on bass is the very accomplished Rufus Reid. “I’ve been in love with Rufus’ style since I first heard him with Stan Getz. I later heard Rufus’ perform in J.J. Johnson’s last band, J.J. being the gold standard for modern trombonists. Whenever I hear him and how he stretches the music, it inspires me to go an extra mile.”
Grace also spotlights an impressive roster of guest artists: trumpeter Roy Hargrove, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Mark Whitfield, Jazz Legacy Productions artist Sharel Cassity (Relentless, JLP 0901001) on alto saxophone and alto flute, and, on four numbers, including the swinging title track - Dease’s own composition - trumpet and flugelhorn master Claudio Roditi. “Claudio invited to join his band two years ago. He’s been very supportive of me being a multi-instrumentalist, and he’s taught me very much about both the jazz and Brazilian traditions.” In fact, the music of Brazil is a recurring theme throughout Grace, with Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song,” on which Dease also plays soprano saxophone, two compositions by Ivan Lins (“Septembro” and “Love Dance”), and a lovely, lesser known work by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Discussao,” a feature for Dease on both the slide and valve trombones.
A Georgia native, Michael Dease received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from New York’s famed Juilliard School. His professional credits include performances and recordings with James Moody, Illinois Jacquet, Claudio Roditi, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Paul Simon, Alicia Keys, Jamie Cullum, and many others. A dedicated jazz educator, Dease is a lecturer at Northeastern University, teaches privately in New York City and Boston, and is an active clinician. He also is a creative producer who has formed his own record label.
“I’m thrilled with the production quality of this CD,” Dease concludes, “and with my band. John Lee and Jazz Legacy Productions made this special project a reality. I couldn’t be happier with the result.”
Michael Dease · Grace · Release Date: July 6, 2010