Of all the ways to celebrate and honour Black American music and its eminent creators, it’s clear that the one chosen by bassist George DeLancey is decidedly the most appropriate and eloquent, and that is to play the music with no “artistic comment” other than to swing it like it was intended to be swung. This means no humbug, no attempt at one-upmanship and certainly no egotistical nonsense; just music with an unvarnished – or truthful – spirited rhythm and unadulterated swing, up and down, in the pocket and always grooving. These are words that cannot – and ought not – to be used to reflect a vast majority of music played today because it has simply been over-intellectualised, factory-produced and singularly lacking in that all-important and intuitive spark.
This is not to say the Mr DeLancey’s recording is without an idea. Consider the title: Paradise. Clearly shaken by the loss of his father and – equally importantly – the loss of the prodigiously gifted drummer, Lawrence Leathers, the bassist has been moved to creating a programme that reflects his meditative state of mind; his contemplation not just of apparent meaninglessness of transitioning from one state of being to another (in the case of Mr Leathers, at least). And finally there is the hope that this repertoire – in its bittersweet content and execution – will facilitate the soul’s as cent into Paradise. This is, we must point out (for Mr DeLancey himself endeavours to stress in his liner notes) that his idea is not really faith-based, but more so an attempt to make music in praise of the (once) living, presence of remarkable human beings – that is, the bassist’s father, Mrs Carolyn Leathers and the late Lawrence Leathers, whose spirit looms large over this music.
The Jazz idiom is the most appropriate to remember those who spent their lives celebrating the joy of human artistry “in the moment” and Mr DeLancey has – to be (positively) simplistic and truest to their memories – celebrating their lives by playing the music invented by Black Americans to celebrate their own pain, but also how it led to triumph over adversity. It is a “human” story that music be told in all its naked truth. Mr DeLancey makes no claim to appropriate these lives and their story; merely to participate in the wake that ushers the spirit of their beings to “Paradise”. The swing and the utter timelessness (no pun intended) of the rhythm of Jazz is meant to convey the moment when human hopelessness and the darkness of loss is transformed here into the melody and harmony of eternal wakefulness in a realm we cannot really comprehend.
So when you listen to “Bohemia After Dark”, you hear the penetrating vision of the inimitable Oscar Pettiford reflected in Mr DeLancey’s full-blooded intonation, the brightness of his sparkling articulation and the swing of delight which comes from “being on the other side” of darkness. Thelonious Monk’s “Locomotive” is all about moving on too, the aching beauty of John Lewis’ “Skating in Central Park” is all about the elusive beauty of the musical moment, that seems to sweep across the dark ice in eloquently executed waltztime. Meanwhile Mr DeLancey’s own “While I Was Away” seems to capture the sound of a surpirse-disappointment-hope-joy moment all in one; and the loping, parabolic emotion of “All The Things You Are” which is an utterly endearing celebration of love.
Perhaps Mr DeLancey didn’t really set out to wear his heart so nakedly on his sleeve, but listening to this emotion we certainly feel that he was right in doing so if only because it celebrates human hope in a most authentic manner. And that is significant artistic endeavour – and no small achievement on the part of all of the other musicians who play on this record to deeply interiorise its exquisite music.
Track list – 1: Paradise; 2: Bohemia After Dark; 3: To Another Girl; 4: Skating in Central Park; 5: Alone Time; 6: Locomotive; 7: While I Was Away; 8: All the Things You Are
Personnel – George DeLancey: contrabass; Tadataka Unno: piano; Lawrence Leathers: drums; Caleb Wheeler Curtis: alto saxophone; Jonathan Beshay: tenor saxophone and clarinet (4); Tony Lustig: baritone saxophone and soprano saxophone (1); Mike Sailors: trumpet and flugelhorn; Robert Edwards: trombone; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet (8); Ray Cetta: tube (8)
Released – 2020
Label – Independent
Runtime – 31:24