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The fourth in a series of trio albums from the Jazz Avenue 1 label, Freedom Jazz Dance features bassist Leon Lee Dorsey, pianist Manuel Valera and drummer Mike Clark. All of the releases thus far have been tributes — Monk’s Time with guitarist Greg Skaff; Play Sgt. Pepper, featuring pianist Michael Wolff; and Thank You Mr. Mabern, with pianist Harold Mabern. Freedom Jazz Dance follows suit, paying homage to the late pianist Hilton Ruiz, with whom Dorsey played for several years.
While two of the songs are Ruiz compositions, this set — which also includes three Dorsey originals and a trio of standards — is less of an outright tribute than it is a showcase for the brilliant and versatile Valera. Starting with an energetic “Freedom Jazz Dance” that has Valera sounding as funky as Les McCann; progressing to Dorsey’s lyrical “Baptism,” which has inside/outside interplay reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s group in the 1970s; and continuing on to Ruiz’s bluesy groove piece “Home Cookin’” and Dorsey’s introspective ballad “Until the End of Time,” the music shifts gears, tempos and styles on practically every tune.
The second half of the set consists of a version of “Autumn Leaves” that starts as a spirited jazz waltz before becoming a swinger in 4/4; a tender, Dorsey-led version of “How Insensitive,” which builds momentum as it evolves; the uptempo modal burner “New Arrival”; and finally, the relaxed Monkish blues, “Chillin.”
Freedom Jazz Dance keeps listeners’ interest throughout. And while the contributions of Dorsey and the quietly stimulating Clark are significant, it’s Valera’s playing that’s most memorable.
— Scott Yanow