So this is going to be the first full on jazz review that I’ve attempted. There were several jazz records from 2016 that I loved and listened to a whole lot, but for some reason, I never felt equipped to talk about jazz in an actual review. Unlike rock, pop, or hip hop which I feel I can judge based purely from a gut reaction to the music, I think jazz requires a different, more analytical approach, which I’m not sure I’m able to give to a great standard, but here I go anyway.
This is the first Michael Dease record that I’ve heard, so I’m not fully aware of the man’s background in the genre, but I must say that the concept behind this new record All These Hands is what intrigued me enough to give this a listen. Across the project’s twelve tracks, Dease gives us compositions each rooted in a certain time and place in the history of jazz. The music of the album takes the listener from New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, Chicago, New York City, and other stops, illustrating the spread of jazz across the country in the twentieth century. Each track takes on the style of the location it is inspired by, and this allows for a texturally varied experience that is epic in scope.
The performances here are top rate. Every musician displays an impressive skillset given the wide stylistic leaps they make from track-to-track. There’s a wide dynamic range showcased as well, as some tracks, such as the blues interlude “Delta City Crossroads”, only feature two performers, while the whole band comes screaming to life on others. One highlight for me personally is the track “Gullah Ring Shout”, an intensely spiritual track with and an intense trombone intro from Dease, before kicking into a slithering jam with propulsive bass from Rodney Whitaker and minimal percussion. Randy Napoleon’s occasional bluesy guitar stabs also add flavor to the piece.
Essentially what we have here is a musical roadmap to American jazz. It looks to the past while still sounding modern and, most importantly for my tastes, texturally varied. Most of my favorite jazz records go off in different directions on each individual piece, and this one does just that within the confines of its concept. It must seem odd to review a jazz album right off the heels of talking about Code Orange and Metallica, but All These Hands is certainly a solid release with ambition to boot.