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Jeff Denson & Joshua White: I’ll Fly Away

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Bassist-composer Jeff Denson has earned a stalwart reputation as a rhythm section standout during his tenure with Lee Konitz’s quartet as well as with the trio Minsarah and his own four-piece ensemble. He takes on the role of co-contributor on his latest two discs, a pair of vastly different but equally compelling duet sessions. The first features stunning renditions of vintage gospel tunes, while the second is a completely improvised date recorded over a two-year period without any overdubs or tweaks.

I’ll Fly Away was initially inspired by performances of gospel tunes Denson delivered at funeral services for his father and maternal grandmother. It pairs him with knockout pianist Joshua White, the second-place finisher at the 2011 Thelonious Monk competition. White’s embellishments, phrasing and harmonic choices are delightful, and elicit masterful complementary responses from Denson. The opening version of the title track (one of three renditions) mixes White’s soaring piano lines and Denson’s steady accompaniment. There’s a gorgeous Denson arco performance of “Amazing Grace” and a wondrous intro to “Down at the Cross” that’s enhanced by White’s contribution. They marvelously retool “When the Saints Go Marching In” and deliver a poignant, sentimental version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

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