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.”