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Michael Dease: Best Next Thing (Posi-Tone)

A review of the trombonist's tribute to five “undersung Giants of Jazz”

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Michael Dease: Best Next Thing (Posi-Tone)
The cover of Best Next Thing by Michael Dease

Posi-Tone, a reliable source for high-quality 21st century postbop, has assembled a repertory company of players who keep reappearing on its releases. Trombonist Michael Dease is all over this label, as both leader (nine albums to date) and sideman. 

The sextet on Best Next Thing contains Posi-Tone regulars like trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston. Surprisingly, Dease has rarely played with them. Pianist Renee Rosnes is the only frequent Dease collaborator here. The total wild card is alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, in a rare sideman role.

Dease intends this project as a tribute to five “undersung Giants of Jazz.” He plays compositions by Rosnes, Steve Turre, Rufus Reid, Claudio Roditi, and Charles Tolliver. He accurately describes their tunes as “groove-centric, harmonically rich and wide-open.” Turre’s “Rainbow People” and Tolliver’s “With Love” are not quite jazz standards but, with their irresistible hooks and beats, deserve to be. Dease contributes four originals and shapes this album into a unified whole with his meticulous arrangements.

Dease’s solos reveal why he was voted first on his instrument in the 2021 DownBeat Critics Poll. There is an impression of perfection in everything he plays. Perfection can be a trap for a jazz musician, but Dease makes vast competence sound spontaneous. He can do what he wants with a trombone: swing hard enough to knock you down (“Rainbow People”), make you laugh out loud (“Doxy”), break your heart (“Lullaby for Rita”).

Mahanthappa, on the other hand, is about creative abandon, not perfection. Every time he solos he explodes from the ensemble. Posi-Tone producer Marc Free made a bold decision when he brought a player this edgy and volatile into such a refined band. But Mahanthappa is high risk/high reward. He is one of the most exciting improvisers in jazz.

Learn more about Best Next Thing on Amazon and Apple Music.

Before & After: Michael Dease

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.