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Julian Priester: In Deep End Dance

Julian Priester, a virtuoso trombonist and deep thinker, blends elements absorbed from his career in the company of a kaleidoscopic array of musicians. His history includes work with Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Lionel Hampton, Dinah Washington, Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden and Wayne Horvitz. If that list traces a progression in Priester’s approach to music making, the album is evidence that as he went further out he kept a grip on fundamentals. The blues is in what he writes and plays even when the form is not the blues. Despite his consistently fine work since the early ’50s, to a puzzling degree Priester has remained under wraps. In Deep End Dance, his first as a leader in a quarter of a century, could change that.

“In Deep” opens the album. “End Dance” closes it. Both begin with the same insistent B-flat-minor figure from the rhythm section, but “In Deep” sets up anticipation and “End Dance” provides resolution. In between, the music resembles a suite, with transitions often made by drummer Byron Vannoy. Vannoy is as impressive for his soft use of brushes between “Ecumene” and “Thin Seam of Dark Blue Light” as for the solo creativity he displays in a sizzling performance of his composition “Mejatoto.”

Bassist Geoff Harper meets the requirements of time playing, soloing and free invention, all with a fat, round tone. Dawn Clement’s touch, harmonic conception and ideas make her one of the most interesting of the new crop of pianists springing up in Seattle. Her introduction to “A Delicate Balance” is uncannily like the beginning of Bill Evans’ 1963 solo on “Misplaced Cowpoke” with Gary McFarland’s orchestra-coincidence, perhaps, but indicative of a certain lyrical turn of mind.

Astonishing in his ability to get around the horn at top speed and low volume, Priester is the opposite of an exhibitionist. Even in the eerie high-note sequence of his free solo on “Captured Imaginations,” taking the trombone beyond its intended range, his ideas are clear and accessible.

In Deep End Dance meets a fundamental requirement of music with staying power: The more you listen, the more you hear.

Originally Published