Randy Napoleon, The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill Review

The Collaborative Bloom of The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill


Randy Napoleon, The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill Review

The Collaborative Bloom of The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill

by Nolan DeBuke

Randy-Napoleon-The-Door-CDRandy Napoleon has brought another excellent album to the verdant landscape of today’s jazz, The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill. The nine-song set emerges like a meticulously cultivated garden, with each of Hill’s compositions blossoming under the care of Randy Napoleon and his ensemble of virtuosic musicians. This album, released by OA2 Records, represents a confluence of musical minds, where the fertile soil of Hill’s compositions meets the nurturing hands of Napoleon and company, yielding a harvest rich in harmonic textures and lyrical beauty.

Gregg Hill, a composer of remarkable breadth and life experience, sends his scores to Napoleon with the spirit of an open garden gate, inviting reinterpretation and growth. This approach allows the music to evolve naturally, echoing the dynamic interplay between sunlight and shadow in a well-tended garden. With his roots deeply embedded in the jazz tradition, Napoleon acts as both gardener and botanist, reshaping Hill’s themes with the same care and attention one might give to rare and exotic plants.

The ensemble’s core—Rick Roe (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Quincy Davis (drums), and Aubrey Johnson (voice)—are seasoned cultivators in their own right. Roe, Michigan’s secret weapon, extends the Detroit school of piano into the present day with his bebop mastery and poetic sensibility. Whitaker, a global icon, anchors the rhythm section with a lyricism that captures the dual nature of joy and sorrow, much like the complex emotions evoked by a beautifully melancholic piece of music. Davis, with his forward-leaning vision, and Johnson, with her air and fire, add layers of depth and texture, enriching the ensemble’s sound with their unique contributions.

The addition of Lucas LaFave on bass for several tracks, along with Anthony Stanco (trumpet), Walter Blanding (tenor saxophone), and Andrew Kim (trombone) on others, introduces new colors and dimensions to the ensemble, akin to adding vibrant flowers or intriguing sculptures to a garden, enhancing its overall beauty and appeal.

Each track on the album unfolds like a distinct scene in a garden, from the gentle opening of “The Lost Tune” to the exuberant rhythms of “Escape to Cat Island” and the contemplative beauty of “April Song.” The compositions are rich with the interplay of light and shadow, offering listeners a journey through varied musical landscapes. “Motel Blues,” with its gospel influences, and “Spa-Teneity,” with its contemporary jazz voicings, showcase the ensemble’s ability to navigate diverse terrains, while “Skyline” and “Triple Play” highlight Hill’s compositional versatility and creativity.

Recording engineer Corey DeRushia, with his keen musical understanding and technical prowess, serves as the master gardener, ensuring that each note and nuance is captured with clarity and warmth. His role in the creation of this album cannot be overstated, as it is through his skill that the vibrant textures and colors of the music are preserved for posterity.

The Door is Open: The Music of Gregg Hill is a delightful album; it resonates with the power of collaboration, trust, and creative freedom. It reminds us that music, like a garden, is a living, breathing entity that thrives on interaction and care. As listeners, we are invited to wander through this musical garden, discovering its hidden nooks and reveling in its aural beauty. This album is for those who appreciate the artistry of jazz and the beauty of musical exploration through creativity and collaboration, inviting us all to open the door and step into the lush garden of sounds it offers.

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