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Dana Hall - Into The Light

Chicago-based drummer and composer Dana Hall has been in demand as a sideman for nearly two decades, working with major names in jazz such as Joe Henderson, Branford Marsalis, Maria Schneider, Benny Golson, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and Kenny Barron. He's also an educator, the musical director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, and -- since 2006 -- leader of an all-star quintet featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, saxophonist Tim Warfield Jr., pianist Bruce Barth, and bassist Rodney Whitaker.

On his outstanding CD debut as a leader, Into the Light, Hall chose to feature his working band, a versatile and simpatico unit that shares his penchant for a broad stylistic range and "trying to go to the 21st century," rather than playing "like it's 1964 all the time." Recorded in a single Sunday afternoon earlier this year, with most of the tunes first takes, the CD will be released by Origin Records November 17.

"Into the Light means a number of different things," says Hall. "It sort of has a religious connotation, when people think of going into the light and what they see when they're at the end of their lives. It can also mean just going into the unknown and having the courage and skill set to explore the unknown. And it can mean someone who's usually a sideman stepping out as a leader and stepping into the light as a composer, which is something a lot of people don't know about me."

Though the disc leads off with Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream," and closes with compositions by Whitaker and Warfield, Into the Light places Hall's writing at the heart of the proceedings -- six originals including the ballad "Orchids"; "The Path to Love," a mid-tempo swinger; and "Jabali," an adventurous suite named for drummer Billy Hart. Hall was inspired by great drummers like Jeff Watts, Victor Lewis, Max Roach, and Billy Higgins who "thought about compositions and conceptualizing a recording from the first song through the last song, not just about showing off some great drum stuff."

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Philadelphia, the 40-year-old Hall studied aerospace engineering and percussion at Iowa State University. He spent two years with the Boeing Company before committing to music full-time. That decision led to a move to New York City in 1991, and for the next several years Hall freelanced with Roy Hargrove, Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, and George Coleman, among others.

Based in Chicago since 1994, Hall is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is pursuing a doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago. (The subject of his dissertation is the soul music of Philadelphia and its relationship to the Black Power Movement.) The drummer has worked with Chicagoans such as Von Freeman, Malachi Thompson, Bobby Broom, Patricia Barber, and Kurt Elling, and for the last 15 years with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, serving as its music director for the past two.

Dana Hall's newest role is as a bandleader promoting a new CD with his favorite group of musicians. Into the Light has provided Hall and his band the opportunity "to finally document what we've been doing," says Hall. "Now we'll see if we can get some momentum going from that." Hall's musicianship, energy, and vision make momentum -- and exciting music -- inevitable.


Performing a set of mostly original material along with several rearrangements of jazz and popular standards, Hall's fertile and agile drumming propels the group of longtime friends into a first-rate album of modern mainstream jazz.

The opening tune is an arrangement of Herbie Hancock's 1969 tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have A Dream". Hall negotiates his quintet through an array of Latin and straight-ahead jazz grooves, showing a sense of how the rhythms throughout the African Diaspora relate and interconnection.

"Conversation Song", the first original tune and second track on the album, is a medium tempo swing showcasing the soulful sounds of saxophonist, Tim Warfield Jr., on tenor sax. Track 3 is a pensive jazz waltz, "Orchids", which features a very nice bass solo by Rodney Whitaker, and some tasty brush-work. Next, the title cut, "Into The Light", is probably the most burning tune on the CD with it's fusionesque energy, post-production effects and electronica ... you definitely feel like you are moving towards the light!

Three more Hall compositions follow. "Black Mountain" starts out with a quasi-bossa feel and evolves into a straight-ahead swing feel. "The Path to Love", inspired by the Deepak Chora book by the same title, is an optimistic medium swing tune. "Jabali" really showcases Hall as he weaves his rhythmic ideas through the melodic fragments of the tune's head, a drum only accompaniment during the tenor sax solo (ala Coltrane), and an open drum solo towards the end of the tune. Nice!

The last two tunes were composed by members of the quintet; the haunting, quasi-ballad, "For Rochelle" (Whitaker), and "Tin Soldier" (Warfield) which which opens with an extended drum solo, then alternates between 6/4 and 7/4 time signatures.

True to the spirit of jazz, after just three live performances, Hall's quintet went into the recording studio and tracked in just one day. Actually the group recorded twelve tunes that day, but due to disc length limitations, only nine made it to the CD.

Into the Light is a great album; sure to propel Dana Hall further into the forefront, not only as player, but as a composer.