After nearly 20-plus years playing as a sideman for musicians like Kenny Barron, Branford Marsalis, and many others, Dana Hall gets his just due with his debut CD, Into The Light, as a bandleader. Debut or not, Hall’s professional and masterful approach to the music is without question, and clearly evident with his jaw-dropping, all-star lineup of Terell Stafford (Trumpet), Tim Warfield, Jr. (Saxes), Bruce Barth (Piano) and Rodney Whitaker (Bass).
Cincinnati is very fortunate to be among the stopping places for Hall to celebrate the release of his CD. The Queen City is certainly in for a treat. Into The Light brings forth a spirited welcome to Hall as a bandleader on CD, but make no mistake – there is nothing “rookie” about this project. Six of the nine tunes are Dana Hall compositions. Into The Light journeys through flavours of Modern Jazz, Soulful Bop, and Rhythmic Swing. In an attempt to avoid “spoiling the surprise” for Jazz enthusiasts, five of the nine tracks are covered in this review. The rest you’ll just have to listen for yourself (ha-ha).
The CD opens with the Herbie Hancock tune, “I Have a Dream”. Dana and Bruce jumps in without haste, in a very moving tempo, which is maintained through Tim’s solo on Sax. The pace slows down for a few ticks as Terell enters his solo on Trumpet, but not a shred of intensity is lost. The “Call & Response” melody between Tim and Terell adds spice to this number. The same can be said with Rodney’s walking bass pattern through Bruce’s keyboard solo.
“Conversation Song” sounds as if it’s just that – a conversation. Tim & Terell exchange dialogue through melody and solos with a socially supportive rhythm section. “Orchids” is a modern and mystical tune that showcases Rodney’s masterful bass work as his solo moves through various ranges and tempos.
The Hall-composed title track “Into The Light” is the fingerprint of the entire CD - Intense, driving, and artistically explosive. Everyone lets loose on this number, while skillfully preserving the core. This keeps the listener engaged, as the core prevents them from becoming lost in the layers of the song. The creativity is really pronounced at the end, as every piece “returns to earth” for a contrasting, yet complimenting wrap.
The quintet closes with “Tin Soldier”, composed by Tim Warfield. This tune opens with a punch; as Dana runs a solo lead-in at the head that includes an exhibition of tom rolls of varying volumes. Tim’s soprano provides a lively head-nodding solo that seamlessly transitions to Terell’s trumpet. Halfway through, Bruce’s piano solo effortlessly pushes the rhythm, followed by Tim and Terell’s return to melody. The last 30 seconds is an all-out party, with playful and expressive banter amongst everyone. Wrapping up the tune in a cheerful, optimistic fashion.
The modern and straight-forward sound of Into The Light is a commanding presence, containing drive and purpose. The quintet is locked into the complexity of their ever-changing rhythm patterns; and Dana does an excellent job maintaining the intensity throughout.
This next comment is nothing more than speculation, but the “light” that Hall may be referring to in the CD name and title track might be that which is created by the energy that travels from the quintet’s instruments to the ears.
Congratulations go to Dana Hall and his Quintet.