“Outrospection” turns out to be an apt creative coinage for the musical goods contained on…
“Outrospection” turns out to be an apt creative coinage for the musical goods contained on Rodney Whitaker’s latest album, given its symbiotic attributes of outgoing musical verve and introspection. Those twin traits are intrinsically evident on the opening title track (and the album’s highlight), on which ace trombonist Michael Dease leads a journey roving from rubato passages to Monk-ish melodic quirks, a jazz waltz section and back to rubato land to close.
Bassist-leader Whitaker, whose résumé includes stints with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove and Kenny Garrett — and who has helmed the Michigan State University jazz program for two decades — rightly shares the spotlight with composer Gregg Hill. Apart from the performance- and ensemble-based virtues of the set, the album serves as a bold showcase for the Michigan composer’s music, which was arranged for the recording by Whitaker. Hill’s music is more-than-duly served by the strengths of such sterling Michigan State faculty members as trumpeter Etienne Charles and Dease. Pianist Xavier Davis is also a sturdy, adaptable source of inspiration in the overall mix.
Many of Hills’ instrumental tunes, including “Bridge to Nashua,” “Cadillac Club,” and “Dollah Hollah” (in homage to Dollar Brand), heed recognizable compositional standards tapping the jazz standards canon. But some of the more intriguingly left-of-center musical ideas emerge in the form of evocative, unconventional vocal pieces — call them deceptively simple jazz art songs. Singer and lyricist Rockelle Whitaker, the bassist’s gifted daughter, conjures a suitably twilight glow on “New Sunday,” “Stargazer” and “Ballade,” while conjuring up proper N’Awlins sass on “Aloogabooga.”
“Peace Song,” a mellow, pensive bossa, closes this varied ear-and-heart-grabbing collection, on which the bassist’s and the composer’s talents soar.