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Michael Dease: Decisions

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Following 2014’s Relentless, his first foray into big-band territory, trombonist Michael Dease is back on familiar ground, leading a small-group session with saxophonist Tim Green, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Rodney Whitaker and Ulysses Owens on drums. Scaled-back in size doesn’t mean lesser in impact though: The 10 tracks on Decisions, most written by Dease, are smartly drawn and expertly played, Marc Free’s no-frills production allotting equal emphasis to the three-part harmonies as well as the frequent, but never overwrought, solos.

Most of those solos go to the leader, who is exemplary. Dease, like many a contemporary trombonist, has found himself compared often to the likes of Curtis Fuller and J.J. Johnson, neither easy to live up to nor warranted. He’s staked out his own turf, and his robust tone and bold phrasing on tracks like his own “Gorgeous Gwen” and “The Big D,” as well as the covers “Everything Must Change” and the opening “Grove’s Groove,” suggest that he’s developed a language on the instrument that nods to those masters while it avoids walking in their well-trodden footsteps. His phrasing on the Warren-Young ballad “You’re My Everything” and his own “Trayvon” is so sublime you’ll feel somewhat slighted when he hands off to the pianist.

That’s not a complaint though. Both Zaleski and Green are essential components here. Their short-but-sweet conversations on tracks such as Dease’s “Jason’s Gonna Get Ya” and “Right Place, Wrong Time” (no relation to the Dr. John hit) add extra dimension to the performance. Whitaker and Owens, meanwhile, rarely break out, but their support is never anything but just right.

Originally Published