Vibraphonist Behn Gillece Explores a ‘Parallel Universe’


Vibraphonist Behn Gillece is, by nature, eclectic, counting drummer/vibraphonist Joe Chambers, pianist Cedar Walton and guitarist Steve Giordano as his composer’s trifecta.

(Photo: Sara Pettinella)

Parallel Universe, the fourth album by New Jersey-based vibraphonist and composer Behn Gillece, blasts out of the gate like a thoroughbred. The program is performed by a sextet of New York City-based musicians who devour the 37-year-old’s memorable compositions.

“Behn’s writing is definitely a unique voice of his own,” noted pianist Art Hirahara, who played on the sessions alongside tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trumpeter Bruce Harris, bassist David Wong and drummer Rudy Royston. “It’s inspiring to play Behn’s tunes because his music is accessible. But at the same time, it also has little twists and turns that make it interesting to play.”

Gillece is, by nature, eclectic, counting drummer/vibraphonist Joe Chambers, pianist Cedar Walton and guitarist Steve Giordano as his composer’s trifecta.

“In the current era, there are so many musicians trying to do things that are radically different, because everybody’s looking for the next thing,” Gillece said. “And in a sense, I have that desire also. I’m not trying to recreate a different era. ... I’ve tried to not force anything. If I learn a couple new things from record to record, I try those [ideas] and work at my evolution in that way.”

There’s certainly an element of hard-bop familiarity present on Parallel Universe, but thanks to vivid arrangements, intriguing melodies and unusual stylistic choices, the music captures a listener’s imagination as it swings—hard.

The opening track, “Break The Ice,” does just that: It’s a high-flyer, featuring rousing solos from Gillece and Dillard, and boisterous accompaniment from Royston. “Bossa For RM” maintains a simmering pace and features breezy harmonic interplay. The brisk title track suggests a meeting between Bobby Hutcherson and Harold Land—no coincidence, considering the pair worked on countless recordings that influenced Gillece’s development. Royston’s knotty pocket opens “Smoke Screen,” a popping funk tune enhanced by radiant solos from Gillece and Hirahara. High-speed vigor propels “Eviscerate”; Afro-Cuban rhythms drive “Shadow Of The Flame”; “Evening Glow” provides repose within a lovely ballad.

Maintaining a busy teaching schedule at Rowan University and New Jersey City University, Gillece also contributes to the website, has a weekly residence at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia and plays on an upcoming Posi-Tone project by the newly convened ensemble Out To Dinner. Different Flavors­­­—an homage to Eric Dolphy’s classic 1964 album, Out To Lunch—is slated for a summer release.

“Behn’s compositions allow the band to interact and actually play, rather than purely serve the composition alone,” Hirahara said. “He’s coming out of the tradition, the swing feel, the language of bebop and post bebop, and you can really hear that.” DB

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June 2023
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