Randy Napoleon, Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill Review
by Jeff Becker
Randy Napoleon teamed up with vocalist Aubrey Johnson and an ensemble of Rodney Whitaker on bass, Quincy Davis on drums, and Rick Roe on piano. Special guests include Seth Edbersole on bass clarinet (tracks 5, 6, 7 & 8) & flute 3, 4 & 5), Brandon Rose on bass (track 2), and Will Crandell on drums (track 2) to bring us his latest album called, Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill. Hill has composed eleven challenging, melodic, and even forward-thinking songs. Hill’s music in this context lays out a contemporary context firmly rooted in modal, post-bop jazz with overtones of blues.
“Fanogram” is a hard-hitting tune that comes out of the hot bop stylings. Hill’s melody is beautifully constructed and lets Johnson’s vocal skill shine as Napoleon and Johnson perform the theme in unison. Crandell and Rose fill in on this one to provide the up-tempo swing for the ensemble. Aubrey’s wordless scatting is outstanding as she phrases her lines like a horn player. Napoleon’s solo shows his fluid technique and ear for melody.
With a diverse set of styles and eras represented on the album, “Truck Driver’s Blues” presents an easy-going blues with overtones of Patsy Cline. Johnson has many vocal hues, textures, and tones, and here she also includes her ability to sing multiple genres with passion and control. Napoleon’s tasteful blues playing is the perfect blend of jazz and blues, both intertwined to express his lyrical playing.
Puppets, The Music Of Gregg Hill is a fresh collection of tunes by an excellent composer performed by an outstanding ensemble. Each song has its charm, and Napoleon homes in on this and brings it out with an emphasis on musicality. Johnson is versatile, as her technique seems to know no bounds.