TERRY GROSS, host:
Drummer Dana Hall lives in Chicago, where jazz critic Kevin Whitehead first heard and began raving about his playing with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble a few years ago. Hall now directs that repertory orchestra while playing in several other bands and leading his own quintet. Hall's first album as a leader is now out. Kevin is still raving about him.
(Soundbite of song, "Jabali")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Dana Hall's "Jabali," a salute to former drummer Billy Hart. Hall doesn't often hog the spotlight on his debut album, "Into the Light." He doesn't need to. He plays more stuff behind other musicians than some drummers do in a solo. Hall stays busy back there, exhorting and swinging the band, playing contrary rhythms, shifting his patterns and punctuating everybody else's solos, like this one from saxophonist Tim Warfield.
(Soundbite of song, "I Have a Dream")
WHITEHEAD: Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream," played more or less in the style of the Miles Davis quintet, with Tony Williams exploding the drums. Dana Hall's quintet is talent-heavy, too. Most of the players have worked together for years in his and trumpeter Terell Stafford's bands. Shared experience means you don't just get great soloists. You get ones used to feeding off each other's ideas. On "Conversion Song," Stafford plays punchy trumpet, recalling fellow Philadelphian Lee Morgan. Pianist Bruce Barth spins his solo off the end of the trumpeter's, improvising on a theme handed off to him.
(Soundbite of song, "Conversion Song")
WHITEHEAD: These state-of-the-art swingers work through possibilities jazz musicians raised decades ago, but they don't sound stale. Even classic jazz has contemporary influences. On Dana Hall's tune "Into the Light," electronics shade the sound of Terrell Stafford's trumpet, but the more modern touch is the drummer's ferocious, post-hip-hop funk beat.
(Soundbite of song, "Into the Light")
WHITEHEAD: Drummers who lay on the thunder like Dana Hall sometimes get accused of having big egos, but his business is less about going it alone than connecting - of binding all the musicians' parts together in a complex matrix of rhythm and melody. Playing tunes by bandmates Tim Warfield and bassist Rodney Whitaker alongside his own helps keep the troops happy. If there's a selfish aspect to this music, it's that the players do sound like they're having a really good time.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He reviewed "Into the Light," the new CD by drummer Dana Hall on the Origin label. You can hear two tracks on our Web site, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.
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