Vibraphonist Behn Gillece Leads Closely Knit Quartet On ‘Still Doing Our Thing’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece is a longtime staple of the Posi-Tone Records group of musicians, and he is, as some may recognize, a vital cog in the Out to Dinner unit we brought you last month. In the tradition of Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke, and the contemporary vibraphonists Warren Wolf, Stefon Harris and Joel Ross, to name a select group, the NYC-based Gillece is not only a master of his instrument but a formidable composer and bandleader. The group assembled here for Still Doing Our Thing includes label mainstays pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston, with a guest appearance by saxophonist Nicole Glover. The album was recorded last August using safe protocols due to the pandemic at the usual Posi-Tone location, Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, NY with label head Marc Free producing and Nick O’Toole engineering.

From 2009 to 2013, Gillece co-led four recordings on Posi-Tone with tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser, all receiving international acclaim and extensive radio play. Gillece’s first four debut albums as leader, Mindset (2015 Posi-Tone), Dare To Be (2016 Posi-Tone), Walk Of Fire (2017 Posi-Tone), and Parallel Universe (2018 Posi-Tone) made immediate splashes in the press and radio, picking up a 2018 Downbeat Rising Star award. The vibraphonist has also appeared as a sideman on many recordings, most recently contributing his playing to albums by Michael Dease, New Faces, Walt Weiskopf, Melody Gardot, Idle Hands, the aforementioned Out To Dinner, and Ensemble Novo.

As the title suggests, the pandemic wasn’t going to deter these musicians. These are all Gillece or band member originals beginning with “Extraction,” described as a suspenseful, iteration of the blues done in a harmonically modal style with an extended form. Hirahara plays Rhodes which weaves in nicely with the vibes. “Rattles” is a combination of composed modal lines and free form expression. Drummer Royston is a welcome addition to any session and while it is tempting to listen to Gillece and Hirahara skitter through clusters of notes, listeners will be rewarded by also focusing on Royston’s drumming which is both inventive and coherently supportive. The brisk title track was written while being quarantined, one such benefit of the shutdown is that its solitude proves conducive to composition.

”Blue Sojourn” was recorded three years ago on the Out to Dinner collective album, Different Flavors. On that date, the horns played the melody while the vibraphone had a harmonic role but here, he flips the script, so the vibraphone is the lead voice in a duo setting with piano. There is a beautiful blend between the two instruments, as both musicians play in gorgeous restraint. “Glad To Be Back” is a Royston composition where the drummer is prominent but never intrusive in the lovely melodies played by the leader and pianist. Bassist Kozlov contributed “Outnumbered,” compelling and spacey in sections as both the bassist and pianist go electric, but with a sly playfulness too.

“Event Horizon” is from Hirahara, having first appeared on his Idle Hands collective album. In this setting Royston lays out but tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover joins for her only stint, delivering her customary flurry of notes, mostly on the low end of her horn. On this standout track, the composer also takes a compelling solo before the unit restates the theme. The last three tunes, all composed by Gillece, have the year of the pandemic underlying the titles and themes. “Back To Abnormal” is a minor blues with all, especially Royston, excelling in the syncopated rhythm while “Going on Well” evokes that time not so long ago when we had live performances and social interaction. As such, it journeys through several sequences, bringing a convivial spirit as it builds. The closer, “Don’t Despair” points directly to optimism as again both Hirahara and Kozlov go electric, the former comping and soloing while the bassist stays out front throughout.

These are superb musicians on top of their game, well connected and inspired throughout this sparkling set.

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