By J.D. Considine | Published January 2020
Before reading his liner notes, there’s no way to know that Never More Here, trombonist Michael Dease’s latest album, is a reference to the Charlie Parker centennial. Once the connection is made, though, the title makes perfect sense: Musically, Bird was never more here than now.
Likewise, the music itself makes a somewhat oblique tribute. None of the tunes are by Parker, nor is there anything obviously imitative about the playing. Supersax Redux this isn’t. But if you listen to the way Dease and his bandmates play—to their use of ornamentation, approach to harmony, to the deep, bluesy feeling that underlies everything—it’s hard to miss their debt to Parker.
The album opens with “Mirror Image,” a nicely contrapuntal waltz by Dease’s pianist, Renee Rosnes, that features clever cross-rhythms, as well as some impressively double-tongued 16th-note runs by the leader, and closes with an impressively cool rendition of John Lewis’ “Milestones,” on which Rosnes, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Lewis Nash work in sly subdivisions of straight-bop time. In between, we get a mini-big band setting of Billy Taylor’s gospel-tinged “I Wish I Knew”; a pleasantly dissonant run through Eric Alexander’s “Frenzy,” featuring blissfully angular solos by trumpeter Randy Brecker and guitarist Jocelyn Gould; and the wonderfully relaxed “A Harmonic Future,” a Jimmy Heath tune that finds Dease trading his tenor trombone for tenor saxophone with no lack of confidence or technique. It’s solid playing all around, and a fitting tribute to Bird at 100.
Never More Here: Mirror Image; A Harmonic Future; Slow Dance; For Hofsa; I Wish I Knew; Blue Jay; Shortcake; Frenzy; Lament; Milestones. (64:18)
Personnel: Michael Dease, trombone, tenor saxophone (2); Steve Wilson, alto saxophone (1, 4, 10), soprano saxophone (2), alto flute (3); Markus Howell, alto saxophone (5); Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone (5); Randy Brecker, trumpet (8); Renee Rosnes, Luther Allison (5), piano; Jocelyn Gould, guitar (3, 4, 8); Gerald Cannon (1–4, 8, 10), Rufus Reid (6, 7, 9), Endea Owens (5), bass; Lewis Nash, Jason Tiemann (5), drums.