Dana Hall: Into the Light

Chicago-based drummer Dana Hall literally decided on a career in music when he realized it wasn’t rocket science. The Brooklyn-born, Philadelphia-raised musician studied both aerospace engineering and percussion at Iowa State University, and worked for the Boeing Company for two years before choosing his current propulsion system. But on his debut CD as a leader, the 40-year-old primarily displays the economy and finesse of one of his idols, Billy Higgins, rather than percussive fireworks.

Hall composed six of the nine tracks on Into the Light, and he also recorded the disc with economy-capturing mostly first takes in one live, eight-hour studio session. Part of his drumming subtleties are owed to his work with understated icons like Joe Henderson, Maria Schneider and Kenny Barron, and part of the recording ease was the familiarity between the members of his working band. Saxophonist Tim Warfield Jr., trumpeter Terell Stafford, keyboardist Bruce Barth and bassist Rodney Whitaker have completed Hall’s quintet since 2006. And all, particularly Warfield and Barth (on Fender Rhodes electric piano), project the sentiment of Herbie Hancock on the opening cover of his “I Have a Dream,” written in 1969 to honor Martin Luther King.

Hall’s compositions follow, showing his range as both a player and writer. The best are the waltzing “Orchids,” which features interlocking horn lines by Warfield and Stafford (à la Miles Davis’ mid-’60s quintet with Wayne Shorter) and a compelling bass solo by Whitaker, and the fiery “Jabali,” on which Hall finally cuts loose. Its title means “moral center,” and is the nickname Hancock gave drummer Billy Hart, another influence on Hall, when he was a member of the keyboardist’s Mwandishi band. Warfield’s explosive “Tin Soldier” closes this rising drummer’s debut with appropriately full thrust.