In jazz, the tradition of giving new and up and coming players education on the bandstand is precious. Art Blakey did it, Miles Davis did it, Elvin Jones, among many others. Veteran trumpeter Wallace Roney continues the tradition bestowed on him from the valuable lessons he learned from Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams just to name a few on his twenty second album as a leader Blue Dawn-Blue Nights. The album, his latest in a nearly 20 year association with High Note features a dynamic quintet: the fast rising Emilio Modeste on tenor and soprano saxophone, Oscar Williams II on piano, Paul Cuffari on bass, his nephew the phenomenal 15 year old prodigy Kojo Odu Roney sharing drum duties with the great Lenny White. The quintet is augmented by Philadelphian Quintin Zoto adding seasoning on guitar for three tracks.
Roney, who played in alongside Philly Joe Jones at age 16, and started his recording career in 1975 has always sought young firebrands in his own bands. He seeks to extend a legacy from the innovations of the past and extend them into the future. Rather than play old tunes, he aims to have his band mates apply those innovations to new pieces and have them play above their best. On the present recording, his group rises to the challenge and supersedes it. Oscar Williams and Emilio Modeste bring their own tunes to the table and let their personalities shimmer and Roney purposely declined to bring his own tunes to let the compositions of the band shine, For those familiar with the trumpeter’s catalog the use of dense polyrhythmic structures will be no surprise, and the opening streetwise, swaggering “Bookendz”with the twin piston drums of Kojo and White and Zoto’s guitar on the introduction do much to bring jazz’s African heritage into focus. Zoto’s picking at the start over the insistent rhythm in 6 is reminiscent of the West African ngoni, and Roney uses the rhythm to propel himself with daring long lines that leave space for White (on the right channel) and Kojo (on the left) with dynamic interplay. Modeste provides the first of several heat seeking solos on the set with declarative soprano, and Williams follows with a simultaneously intense and reflective solo that uses strong motivic development. Next, Roney, Cuffari and Williams tackle “Why Should There Be Stars” as a trio. The trumpeter’s legato yearning tones are crafted with such an attention to detail that the tune could be an old standard, Cuffari’s bass and Williams’ provocative harmonies carry the performance.
Lenny White returns to the drums on his funky “Wolfbane” first heard on Present Tense (Hipbop,1996) and Cuffari right away locks in with the drummer. Roney is daring like an aerialist, and digs in hard when White swings on the bridge. Modeste slowly and expertly builds dark hued phrases; his tone hinting at Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter as he gradually moves to a primal scream. Throughout the performance, the legendary White signature fast reactions and detailed listen allow for varied backgrounds to suit each soloist. Roney and Modeste fly on Dave Liebman’s classic “New Breed” first heard in a memorable version on Elvin Jones’ Live At the Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1972). Williams goes for a “stroll” (piano lays out) while Roney and Kojo engage in some thrilling rhythmic interplay. Oscar Williams’ “In A Dark Room” is immediately fascinating for the way he uses the sustain pedal on it’s brooding into, to give way into Cuffari’s pedal tones, and Kojo’s gong like splash cymbal on the theme choruses. Everyone solos to a slow boiling build. Toto’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” is given a wonderful new perspective, Lenny White’s switching between eighth note and swing rhythmic feels adds considerable intensity to the trumpet and tenor solos. Modeste’s two challenging compositions with their singable melodies prove to be the most arresting. His “Elliptical” extends on the kind of mixed meter rhythmic blender found on Tony Williams’ “Black Comedy” that Roney, the composer and the rest of the quintet handle with ease. Kojo rips through the sudden meters that change every few bars with ease, and it’s remarkable a player as young Modeste has such a thorough knowledge of such a complex form. He certainly knows the tradition and pulls those innovations into the present. To hear another example of how Roney utilizes this rhythmic concept with panache, check out the explosive version of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” on Village (Warner Brothers, 1997).
Blue Dawn-Blue Nights is one of several recordings made at Van Gelder Studio since Rudy Van Gelder’s passing. Maureen Sickler captures the classic RVG sound to a tee on this recording, replicating the larger than life, vibrant but relatively flat two dimensional sound stage of a lot of classic RVG recordings on Blue Note, Impulse, Prestige, CTI and Muse from the 1960’s to 1990’s. A real positive surprise was to hear the drums on the opening “Bookendz” have a touch of that unmistakable ceiling reverb, however subtle that were an imminent part of the sound before 1971 when RVG began to use isolation booths for the drums. Trumpet and saxophone and guitar project the classic ceiling reverb to the back half of the stereo image, and the piano retains that trademark RVG mid range heavy sound. It is pleasure to hear the RVG sound continue on.
Wallace Roney hits it out of the park with this new quintet. The band is one of the best, and tightest he’s had, completely sympathetic to his specific vision of extending musical legacies. His trumpet remains as strong and potent as ever, and each member of the core quintet makes strong contributions. It’s certainly one of his best albums alongside others in his catalog like Verses (Muse, 1985), The Wallace Roney Quintet (Warner Brothers, 1995) and No Room For Argument (Stretch/Concord, 2000). The players he’s brought forth this time out, namely Emilio Modeste, Oscar Williams II and Kojo Odu Roney have big futures ahead, and it’s going to be fun to see where the band on Blue Dawn-Blue Nights heads next.
Music rating: 9/10
Sound rating: 7.5/10