Good new trombone players do not come along as often as, say, good tenor saxophone or trumpet players. Enter Michael Dease. On the very first track, “Solid Gold,” he rockets through a convoluted line like he doesn’t know it’s hard. Then there’s Freddie Hubbard’s “Take It to the Ozone,” a famous lip-buster for trumpet players. Nobody covers it on trombone. Except Dease. “Solid Gold” is fast but “Ozone” is ridiculous.
Chops of doom are fun, but taste, judgment and the ability to craft a complete album statement are more important. Coming Home has strong personnel, interesting original tunes, unexpected standards and meticulous arrangements. Bassist Christian McBride, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. are three-fifths of the Christian McBride Quintet. The pianist is Renee Rosnes. Dease gives them all generous solo space, although the discipline and focus of this album, and the seamless charts, mean that most of the solos are concise. An exception is “Motherland,” which contains Wilson’s extended, free-flowing meditation on humanity’s African roots. Wilson, one of the great sidemen of jazz, is on fire throughout Coming Home. His outbreaks on “Ozone” and “Good & Terrible” are spontaneous passion in elegant musical form. Rosnes’ moments are distillations of pure lyricism, especially on her own ascending, affirmational “Lifewish.”
But Dease is the star. His solos are detailed dissertations on a wide range of intellectual and emotional subjects. “In a Sentimental Mood” is reimagined history. Dease, in a tone of dark molten gold, first recalls Lawrence Brown. He subtly transforms the melody with his inflections, within a lovely, layered arrangement. After sensuous interludes by Wilson and guest tenor saxophonist Tony Lustig, Dease returns with a mute and a plunger like “Tricky Sam” Nanton and takes bolder liberties with Ellington’s theme, over chords that none of Duke’s trombonists ever dreamed of.