Dana Hall

Into the Light

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Chicago drummer Dana Hall has had his share of cherry gigs as a sideman in his Windy City home or New York City over the last two decades. This debut CD as a leader shows not only his extreme talent rivaling contemporaries like Brian Blade, Kendrick Scott, Eric Harland, or Jeff Watts, but gives the listener a taste of his past and present influences as a composer. You heard direct references to Herbie Hancock tacked on to stylistic similarities via early Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey, and Woody Shaw. Hall, who wrote six of the nine tracks, has chosen fellow young and experienced bandmates like saxophonist Tim Warfield, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Bruce Barth and bassist Rodney Whitaker, a mix of musicians with roots from Michigan through the Lincoln Center school of modern mainstream jazz thought. Hancock's pioneering Mwandishi band is referenced in the sound of his classic "I Have a Dream" that opens the set in its indirect boogaloo fusion with Barth on the Fender Rhodes electric piano. A swift tick-tock rock title track, and "Black Mountain" with its sweet horn charts, also suggest this throwback to the early '70s. The band quotes Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane" during the fleet melody of "Jabali," dedicated to Mwandishi drummer Billy Hart, as Hall's drum fills connect the dots of a spiky melody that also foreshadows the neo-bop of Wynton Marsalis, with whom these players have collaborated. In an easy swinging mood, "Conversion Song" and "The Path to Love" allow the excellent tandem of soulful Warfield (primarily on tenor sax) and smart Stafford to sound as the contemporary equivalents of Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan from the older days of Blakey's Jazz Messengers, or even Shaw's large concert bands, while the pretty sing-song waltz of "Orchids" sounds a lot like something Tom Harrell would do. Stretching the changes further, Whitaker's "For Rockelle" -- which is approaching the status of a standard -- moves from hip-hop R&B to an Ahmad Jamal-type soul strut, and Warfield's "Tin Soldier" is strictly a hard bop affair with some clever time changes away from its tricky 7/8 base. Hall kicks the drum kit down the turnpike with great power and passion, dismissing too much bashing or showing off, while his worthy constituents play up to their skilled capabilities on this exciting program of updated straight-ahead jazz music that should please just about everybody.

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