Label: Outside In Music, 2018
Personnel – James Hall: trombone; Jamie Baum: flute; Deanna Witkowski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Tom DiCarlo: bass; Allan Mednard: drums + guest Sharel Cassity: alto sax.
American trombonist James Hall was born in Omaha, Nebraska but has been enriching the New York jazz scene for quite some time now, after moving to Brooklyn. The effortless genre-bending approach that characterizes him is well patented on Lattice, his sophomore album inspired by his own love story and Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child.
In this recording, Hall links up with flutist Jamie Baum, pianist Deanna Witkowski, bassist Tom DiCarlo, and drummer Allan Mednard, with this group being expanded into a sextet with the addition of alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity in a couple of pieces. The latter delivers crisp improvisations on “Brittle Stitch”, which, being piloted in swinging post-bop mode, evinces some interesting rhythmic curbs and ensemble work, and “Black Narcissus”, a charming reading of Joe Henderson’s classic, piqued here by the extra groove of the Fender Rhodes in an incessant cooperation with the indivisible rhythmic flow provided by bass and drums. Outlining the melody by turns, Cassity and Baum enjoy the momentary counterpoint by Hall. This works in variance with the opening track, “Shoy”, a medium-fast 3/4 Hancock-like composition, where paralleled melodic activity runs on top of the theme’s inviting harmonic progression. Both the bandleader and Baum carry out their improvisations with a purity of tone and considerable slices of tension, while Witkowski pervades the terrain with a fluid set of rhythmic figures and ambitious phrases.
During the introductory section of the title track we have an empathetic legato passage of solo Rhodes keyboard, which provides us with enough evidence to prognosticate a ballad capable of hypnotizing. Whenever I listen to this track, the exotic moods and amenable Afro grooves of Sun Ra’s music pop up in my mind.
Completely divergent in nature are “Gaillardia”, another Hall’s original, and “Kind Folk”, composed by the late master trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Whereas the former showcases seductive melodies, led by trombone and alto flute, over a Latin rhythmic spell, the latter, renouncing to the ternary flow of the primitive version, hugs a delicate 4/4 groove that comes in the sequence of a bass introductory monologue. Even creating a sound of their own, the silky smooth lines and rich harmonization put forth by the quintet, allows us to clearly identify Wheeler’s modes and sonic pathways.
“Terrace” closes the album with sympathetic friendliness, bringing in a proactive walking bass, muted trombone lines converging and intersecting with the glossy flute, and Mednard’s enthusiastic and conclusive cymbal work.
The tunes we hear on Lattice are easy to connect and assimilate. They not only show a high level of musicianship but also authenticate Hall as a talented voice in today’s jazz.
01 - Shoy ► 02 - Black Narcissus ► 03 - Lattice