Vibraphonist Behn Gillece thrives on the camaraderie of modern hard-bop. He came to prominence co-leading various ensembles with tenor saxophonist Ken Fowler, frequently changing rhythm sections on their four discs together for Posi-Tone. Walk of Fire is Gillece’s third for the label as the sole leader since then. It might just be the best of the bunch and, not coincidentally, features a septet, his largest working group thus far, performing 10 of his original tunes. Gillece writes sturdy melodies with familiar chord changes, so that a galvanizing frisson can be established by different textures slotted into the arrangements. The themes surge as a procession of soloists take turns against the template.
It doesn’t hurt that the three-member horn section consists of Posi-Tone headliners both established (trombonist Michael Dease, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf) and up-and-coming (trumpeter Bruce Harris). Their solo transitions are seamless and buttery on the opening title song and “Dauntless Journey”—compositions that retain a simmering pace, a relaxed tension arising from the taut communication of pros at work. Gillece indulges two of his longstanding affections: the creamy sophistication of Brazilian music, on the samba “Fantasia Brasileira”; and the quicksilver stroll of Milt Jackson on “Bags Mood,” neatly abetted by some laidback phrasing from Harris. The rhythm section snares the spotlight at various points in passing: Jason Tiemann’s drum and cymbal fills on “Battering Ram,” Adam Birnbaum’s extended piano solo to cap “Something New,” and a sans-horns quartet rendition of “Reflective Current.”
Gillece is a tasteful four-mallet stylist who prefers to gracefully surf the mainstream current rather than dazzle with speed and affectation. That said, when you pay attention, both his ensemble work throughout the disc and his solos on tracks like “Walk of Fire,” “Bags Mood” and “Specter” steadily unveil the depth of his abundant technique and dogged imagination. The camaraderie here includes the listener.