Wallace Roney Enlists Next Generation Players For ‘Blue Dawn – Blue Nights’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Blue Dawn -Blue Nights is the Philadelphian-born trumpeter and bandleader Wallace Roney’s twenty-second album as a leader. This album departs from others in his catalog as it includes none of his own compositions  but more importantly, he taps the next generation of improvisational jazz musicians, including saxophonist Emilio Modeste (tenor/soprano), pianist Oscar Williams II, bassist Paul Cuffari, and his fifteen-year-old nephew, drummer Kojo Odu Roney who plays on five of the eight tracks. Guitarist Quintin Zoto joins on “Bookendz,” “Wolfbane,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” while the iconic drummer Lenny White joins the young Roney on “Bookendsz” and is the sole drummer on “Why Should There Be Stars,” “Wolfbane,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

Roney offered, “My music is uncompromising, so I look for musicians who have an expansive understanding of what’s possible and who have the ability to play above that, but who are always cognizant of what’s going on around them. I tell them ‘be true to who you are. Go all the way in, learn every part of what the masters have done, but let it come out of you’.” That statement was taken to heart by these players. You can hear the influence of Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, and John Coltrane in the young but already highly acclaimed Emilio Modeste’s tenor playing. Oscar Williams II is a thirty-one-year-old pianist hailing from Kansas City, who displays touches of his two main influences – the unpredictable angularity of Monk and the improvisational flair of Keith Jarrett. The twenty-year-old bassist Paul Cuffari is usually associated with Mark Johnson and Enoch Smith, Jr. but has a deep knowledge of the greats, citing Paul Chambers and Ron Carter as his major mentors. Then there’s the fifteen-year-old drummer, Roney’s nephew, who is mature in his accompaniment, well beyond his years.

The overall sound of this recording evokes some of the work of Miles Davis’ famous quintet, a unit which also employed very young players. It shouldn’t be surprising then to hear Roney say, “I was fortunate to have learned from Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Art Blakey and Dizzy{Gillespie}. Horace Silver was another important person in my life who rarely gets the credit he is due and there Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Clark Terry.”

Roney challenged the band members to write the compositions, serving as a mentor in the process. As such, the tune “In a Dark Room” was composed by Oscar Williams II, reflective of the kind of ‘film noir’ vibe that Wayne Shorter used on his ‘60s Blue Note recordings. The last two tracks, the meandering “Virgo Rising,” and the rhythmic “Elliptical” was penned by Modeste who demonstrates quite a compositional flair. Roney drew from other sources too. The lead track, the anthemic “Bookendz,” with twin drummers, was composed by keyboardist Wayne Linsey, an old classmate and friend of Roney. The contrasting lovely ballad, “Why Should There be Stars,” is by Kaye Lawrence Dunham, which Roney recorded with vocalist Mary Stallings. Lenny White’s “Wolfbane” has a Tony Williams-inspired, “Freedom Jazz Dance go-go groove!” Dave Liebman’s “New Breed,” originally recorded in 1972 with Elvin Jones, is given a fresh sheen with Roney’s melodious muted trumpet. The slow 4/4 meter of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” sounds familiar because it’s by the pop group Toto and was played as a warm-up tune by Miles Davis in the ‘80s. 

Wallace Roney began his career at the age of 16 with Philly Joe Jones and recorded as a sideman with McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, and Ornette Coleman.  If he sounds like Miles, it’s understandable. Roney was a member of VSOP. As a member of Tony Williams Quintet, Wallace won the attention of Miles and his long-standing association with Davis culminated in the Grammy award-winning, Quincy Jones-conducted MIles and Quincy Live at Montreux. which won a Grammy and where Davis played many of his classic music before he died in 1991. 

From his debut Verses in 1987, Roney has played in every music context available to his expressive trumpet approach. He’s been blessed by the masters and carries on their legacy in his sound.

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