It is fitting that the first notes you hear on Black Lion are from the bass. Dezron Douglas you will know from a lot of records. Recently he was on one of 2018’s best albums Universal Beings by Makaya McCraven. The tune ‘Black Lion’ that lends its name to the title of this brand new album stole the show on that release as I wrote at the time but does not feature on this one. The name however resonates especially if you recall the impact of the McCraven record.
Douglas chooses both acoustic bass and electric bass here, the latter only on a few tracks and it is the double bass you hear first. When Willerm Delisfort comes in it is pretty clear what sort of style ‘Soulris’ is setting up: you might like me immediately think that you have landed in a McCoy Tyner-type situation or simply feel and buy into the breezy ratcheting up of chord progressions with that undertow of spiritual organ, the horns of Stacy Dillard on tenor saxophone and Lummie Spann on alto saxophone, a little trumpet poking through, proceeding along lines The Cookers have been championing in recent years.
This is pretty old school stuff and not as modern sounding as the McCraven approach but does not pall at all or sound corny. Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums is very much in control. If he wasn’t this would fall in a heap.
‘Negroidius Maximum’ started off by Douglas more in a Mingus feel here has an off kilter toe-tapping nature to it, plenty of soul filtering up through the alleyways of metre, think the kind of effect Lee Morgan and ‘The Sidewinder’ has on you and you will not go far wrong here. Lummie Spann who hails from Hartford in Connecticut channels his inner Eddie Harris highly infectiously.
‘Bottoms Out’ is different beginning from the drums but again that Cookers comparison holds, and this is gutsy stuff and drives along. Dezron holds back at first but walks the bass into quite a stride and it is saxophone time galore as the tune reveals itself thriving on his beat.
Recorded in New Jersey there is a lot of love here backed up by nuance and ability and no more so than on the warm ‘Alexis’ where trumpeter Josh Evans hitherto not that evident in the sound gets his chance to shine and shine he does, a woozy ache to the melody but there is plenty of interesting development going on behind him as Douglas free-forms his solo on bass guitar underneath and a real feeling of freedom within the deliberate mess of sound throughout is created.
There is a reggae feel on the ‘Great Provider’ again Douglas choosing bass guitar. And while this is not the best track it is certainly one of the more enjoyable selections. ‘Uhuru Vibration’ at the end is the real treat of the whole affair when you can really get an obvious inkling of how much a master Douglas is on bass when he opens with a hugely woody feature that will make you hit the repeat button again and again and I guess will be sampled by plenty of DJs if they get to hear it. SG
Douglas is over in the UK this month playing with Trevor Watkis and Byron Wallen in their Dizzy Reece tribute. Catch them for instance at Band on the Wall in Manchester on 30 January.