RANDY NAPOLEON — The Door Is Open : The Music of Gregg Hill (review)

RANDY NAPOLEON — The Door Is Open : The Music of Gregg Hill album cover Album · 2024 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
The essence of great jazz is an ensemble that can articulate a collaborative effort. “The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill” by Randy Napoleon successfully creates such an environment. Napoleon's guitar work is deep within the jazz tradition and Hill's a composer of versatility, whose life experiences range from steering the wheel of a big rig to orchestrating the finances of a tech giant. Together, they infuse the album with an adventurous spirit that is delightful to listen to and experience.

“The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill” is nine tracks built on the symbiotic relationship between composer and interpreter. Hill's compositions, delivered to Napoleon with minimal directives, become a canvas for expression, akin to poetic muses that beckon the ensemble into nuanced musical discussions. This dynamic interplay culminates in a sound that transcends the sum of its parts, creating a collective musical consciousness that resonates with the spontaneity of a Ouija board game, where the music flows through the musicians rather than from them.

The core ensemble featuring Rick Roe, Rodney Whitaker, Quincy Davis, and Aubrey Johnson, with Lucas LaFave stepping in for Whitaker on select tracks, embodies the essence of chemistry that can only be forged through deep musical and personal connections. Roe's piano artistry, a cornerstone of the Detroit bebop lineage, and Whitaker's bass playing anchors the album. Davis' forward-leaning drumming and Johnson's diverse vocals add layers of texture that are at once innovative and timeless.

Napoleon's guitar playing stands out for its lyrical beauty and technical finesse. His solos throughout the album, notably on "The Lost Tune" and "Escape to Cat Island," showcase a musician intensely rooted in the jazz tradition yet constantly pushing towards new horizons. His ability to meld with the ensemble while shining as a soloist exemplifies the album's collaborative spirit.

The inclusion of a horn section on several tracks adds another dimension to the album, with contributions from young talents such as Andrew Kim, whose trombone playing belies his youth, and seasoned pros like saxophonist Walter Blanding and trumpeter Anthony Stanco, who bring their unique voices to the ensemble. These arrangements reflect Napoleon's affinity for crafting soundscapes that envelop the listener in a rich, auditory embrace.

"Motel Blues" and "Skyline" illustrate the album's range, moving from gospel-infused swing to a poignant ballad that speaks with emotion and finesse. Whether delivering heartfelt lyrics or engaging in wordless interplay with the ensemble as a frontline instrument, Johnson's vocals are our guiding light through these varied emotional landscapes.

“The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill” is a celebration of musical fellowship, compositional brilliance, and the boundless possibilities that arise when artists of such high caliber join forces. This album invites listeners and musicians alike to open the door to their own creative explorations.

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