Some of the first group of Posi-Tone issues in 2021 seem to take their cue from the vintage Blue Note. A forthcoming release in February is from the collective Out to Dinner, replicating the instrumentation of Eric Dolphy’s iconic Out to Lunch. There were several labels in the ‘70s and ‘80s promoting the young, rising jazz stars as “young lions.” Blue Note’s OTB, Out of the Blue, as one example, was founded as a showcase for the label’s younger musicians. They formed in 1984, releasing four albums and touring extensively over the next five years. The lineup changed occasionally over this time, and the group disbanded in 1989 after its members moved on to solo careers. Yet, consider these names: Kenny Garrett, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Steve Wilson, and Renee Rosnes to name just a few that went on to have successful solo careers. Posi-tone has a similar mission of seeking out and nurturing emerging talent, and this aptly named project, launched with one group of individuals on 2018’s Straight Forward and carried to soaring heights with different personnel, this sextet on New Sounds, is a shining example.
Alto saxophonist Markus Howell, a multifaceted musician has appeared on a handful of projects for the label, walks that fine line between traditional and contemporary. Tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, with ties to bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist George Colligan, brings an earthy resonance to the mix. And powerhouse trumpeter Brandon Lee, has a résumé that extends from The Count Basie Orchestra to the Christian McBride Big Band. The rhythm section is not be outdone by these front-line players. Pianist Caili O’Doherty, is a key presence in Posi-Tone’s Works For Me cooperative. Bassist Adi Meyerson, the ballasting voice in that same collective and a supportive standout on Champian Fulton’s Speechless, again exhibits her understanding of time, shape, and place while drummer Cory Cox, brings a sense of style to the kit. We owe a debt to versatile jazz journalist Dan Bilawsky, who provides many of the details on the compositions and who captured the quotes from producer and label head Marc Free who first says, “I just wanted to take the opportunity to bring these young people together to cooperate— cross-pollinate, actually—and induce a certain, different kind of reaction, which I believe you can clearly hear on the record.”.
“Shades of Brown,” the opener, and Lee’s single contribution, exudes grace and determination with spots from each horn underpinned by sturdy rhythms. The band continues with label veteran, vibraphonist Behn Gillece’s “Whistleblower.” “This is a bit of a preview of similar material you’ll hear on the Out to Dinner session where Gillece is the de-facto leader. It’s a mix of modal music and hard bop, but with more adventurous, freer ideas. Meyerson’s “Afloat,” is an elegant waltz buoyed mostly by Lee’s robust trumpet on the high end opposite Glover’s cluster of low end flurries as O’Doherty comps before taking a deliberate solo. “Stop Gap,” stems from first edition New Faces bassist Peter Brendler and proves to be a kind of boogaloo showcase for Howell and Glover. “Hold My Heart,” is a Myerson ballad, the session’s most deeply emotional cut, with gorgeous, honey-dripping tone from each horn and O’Doherty carefully measuring each note with the requisite feeling.
Howell’s “Second Wind” is rather free-form and almost schizophrenic as it alternates between Latin groove and lean swing, offering some strong statements but mostly giving Cox a chance to cut loose amidst the ensemble parts. Glover’s “Blues for Tangier” begins with some harsh harmonics before melting into a slow, woozy take the seemingly intends to reverse Mediterranean tides. As expected, the composer is all over her horn before summoning Howell and Lee to help further shape the haunting aura. Cox’s “Luna Lovejoy,” a peppy, Brazilian-influenced groove introduces the intertwining of Howell’s flute and Lee’s muted horn. O’Doherty’s “Runaway,” builds from its introspective beginnings and keeps strengthening as would a tropical storm.
The closer, Gillece’s “Trapezoid” is one of the most remarkable pieces on the program and likely one of the more challenging ones to play with its geometric slant and an adrenalized stride. Free comments, “I would call that a sensitive and vulnerable portrayal of people trying to hear their way and not think their way through difficult times, be present, and bring unity and warmth to the world during what may feel like a stark or difficult moment.”.
This writer has heard four Posi-Tone releases that grace the first two months of 2021 and plans to cover three of them, this and two more on these pages: and, as a result of those and Free’s tremendous catalog, can attest to his commentary. “I really loved making this record, I love working with these people, and there was a huge emotional payoff to making this album that supersedes anything else. I’m hoping that New Sounds will bring some beauty and blissful joy to listeners who are just discovering these musicians or have maybe heard them on only one or two occasions before. I hope this project validates whatever reason they chose to invest some of their time and energy into listening to this wonderful music that we’ve put together for them to enjoy. And I want people to know that when they pick up a record that says Posi-Tone, they can rely upon that brand to be melodic, emotionally sincere, thoughtful, insightful, and well considered in every way.” As Good Housekeeping used to say years ago, look for that seal of quality (Posi-Tone is this case).
- Jim Hynes