Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of jazz fans: those who love the vibes and those who don’t. Those of us in the first category revere Milt Jackson and believe that the vibraphone, in the right hands, can conjure emotional mystery like no other instrument. Those in the second category apparently think it sounds like a toy xylophone.
Far fewer new vibraphonists come along than, say, pianists or guitarists. And with the death of Bobby Hutcherson in 2016 and the retirement of Gary Burton in 2017, you could argue that the vibes world has recently suffered a net loss.
Welcome to the scene Behn Gillece, not an innovator but a very capable practitioner of the instrument in question. Parallel Universe is attractive, technically astute new-millennium mainstream jazz. Gillece shares the front line and solo space with two promising emerging players, tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trumpeter Bruce Harris. The other members of the sextet are pianist Art Hirahara, bassist David Wong, and drummer Rudy Royston. Gillece says the album’s title refers to the extrovert and introvert inside every musician. Parallel Universe comes down hard on the side of the extrovert. These 11 tracks mostly burn.
Gary Burton, a vibraphonist who knew he was a much better player than a composer, was a major interpreter of great repertoire. Gillece, like so many jazz musicians today, records his own songs. His 11 tunes are well-made, carefully paced, harmonically literate, generic, and forgettable. In current jazz there is an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about: the pressure to perform original music. It is meant to expand the art form but limits it. Parallel Universe becomes compelling only when the solos start. It would have been interesting to hear this talented sextet apply its ensemble voice to stronger material.