Trombonist/composer Michael Dease is a porkpie-hat kind of guy. On his new album, Bonafide, he strives to make fragrant both the swing and bop roots of the jazz tradition, and understands how an ensemble transforms the most personalized improvisations into acts of camaraderie.
When Dease brings four trombones to bear on Phineas Newborn Jr.’s “Theme for Basie,” the soulful swing puts the phrase “in the pocket” in boldface. His brass joust with trombonist Conrad Herwig on the Dease original boogaloo, “Alpha,” is a cutting contest of speed and intonation. The leader’s generosity of spirit with the core ensemble also promotes the kind of variation crucial to a trombone-centric project. His “Rufus McWhitman” is a low-down tribute to four bassists, including ensemble member Todd Coolman, who plumbs the melody alongside bass trombonist Gina Benalcazar. Pianist David Hazeltine is a hard-bop stalwart, especially noteworthy here on the two closing ballads, “Nós,” by the “Brazilian Billy Strayhorn” Johnny Alf, and Dease’s dedication to his mentor Wycliffe Gordon, entitled “The Real Deal.” On at least four of the 11 songs, there is ample space provided for the kinetic fills of drummer E.J. Strickland.
The horns likewise keep it fresh. J.J. Johnson’s gift to Wayne Shorter, “In Walked Wayne,” is here bestowed on guest Sam Dillon, whose tenor sax is a welcome break from the ’bone yard. The final trombonist on the session not yet name-checked, Marshall Gilkes, takes star turns on succeeding tracks, in tandem with Dease on the Marcus Belgrave tune “Batista’s Groove,” and with Dease and Herwig on the Dease number “Coexist.” The tune is, of course, “bonafide,” dictionary-defined as “authentic,” from the Latin root “with good faith.”