Friday, September 02, 2022

Dennis Mitcheltree | "Golden Rule"

Saxophonist and composer Dennis Mitcheltree’s new recording, his sixth as a leader, Golden Rule, is one brimming with humanity. The music celebrates family, lost friends, his major inspirations (including tenor giants John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and others), and speaks directly to our shared journey through life, and the imperative to treat each other with love, respect, trust and dignity – in short – to treat others as you wish to be treated. The music on Golden Rule is a reflection of that notion. It also swings like mad and engages the listener with nine wonderfully crafted compositions from Mitcheltree. 

“The long arc of humanity bends upward towards cooperation,” says Mitcheltree. That is exemplified in his ensemble, which features pianist Johannes Wallmann, bassist Jesse Crawford and drummer Bill McClellan. The quartet has been playing music together for several decades, and, “have become personally simpatico and musically empathetic. We’ve toured the world and working together is never a struggle as we trust each other on a deep and instinctual level. The Golden Rule is followed when we play music - treating each other as we wish to be treated: with respect, freedom, and joy,” explains Mitcheltree. He continues, “in collaboration each musician brings their individuality to the music and allowing them to do so makes the music better. When I embrace my bandmate’s contributions I find that the music can go places I hadn’t imagined. We have our own individual lives and projects, but when we perform together a unique entity is formed. What we create together is more powerful and beautiful than any single contribution. We think the results are wonderful, and hope you do as well!” 

For Mitcheltree, his bandmates are held in such high regard as to represent elements of our natural environment. He explains that, “Jesse Crawford is the rock, the earth of the group - always prepared and the one tying us together. His influence is felt throughout without drawing too much attention to itself. His work on ‘Waltz for Tai’ is an on-point example. Bill McClellan is the passion and fire - a role that can easily go overboard - yet he does his job with grace and a deep understanding of direction. His solo at the end of ‘Omicron’ is classic McClellan, and his work on ‘Genghis Kant’ is brilliant. Johannes Wallmann is the ocean, the water - he sets the temperature from cool to scalding hot with harmonic and rhythmic possibility, notably on the introduction to ‘Sarah,’ the ending to ‘Pacifisticuffs’ and in his comping and solos throughout the recording.” 

Regarding Mitcheltree, his tenor playing is chock-a-block with ideals, convictions and passions – you’re hearing an artist who “speaks” directly, eloquently and purposefully. Not to mention, with great melodicism and harmonic sophistication. Nancy Lee said of Mitcheltree, "the saxophonist is aggressively adventurous and most expressive...Mitcheltree evokes hearty tones from his instrument as he masterfully interweaves unexpected lines to create fascinating sound tapestries at any tempo" (JazzTimes Magazine). Michael G. Nastos called Mitcheltree’s tenor, “soulful, swinging and street smart” (AllMusicGuide), and the esteemed Martin Johnson called Mitcheltree "one of the area's best young tenor players...His album ‘Brooklyn’ is one of the better records of the last two years" (Newsday). The saxophonist/composer regularly receives high praise of this nature from veteran jazz critics. 

More on the nine tunes which comprise Golden Rule, with Dennis Mitcheltree:

1 – Waltz for Tai 5:36 - a 3/4 tune, 56 bars in AABA format, written for my 12 year old son Tai, who’s since picked up the tenor saxophone himself, and can be a monster at it if he chooses to do so. Like Tai, very lyrical, but with surprising melodic tension and an intense bridge section.

2 – Omicron 5:25 - the study of melodic 4ths, in a setting reminiscent of Coltrane’s mid-60s vibe with a B section that makes me feel like Joe Henderson every time I play it. Like the covid variant it’s named for, it’s relentless and catchy, but causing less damage than previous incarnations. Bill’s solo at the end is a strong continuation of the theme.

3 – Sarah 7:09 - written for my wonderful, smart and beautiful girlfriend. I love the solo intro by Johannes! Sad, hopeful and strong, all at the same time, the tune is beautifully brought to life by the entire group.

4 – Genghis Kant 4:33 - a play on words juxtaposing one of the more notorious might-makes-right characters in human history, Genghis Khan, with philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant is known for his philosophy of moral reasoning, the Categorical Imperative, a secular version of the Golden Rule.

5 – Via Dance 5:46 - named for my 15 year old daughter Olivia. It’s a chill swinger, a grown-up tune, just like the wonderful young adult she’s in the process of becoming.

6 – Bling Tone 5:11 - my reworking of If I Were A Bell with nods to Coltrane. Check out the tenor/ drums duet directly before the melody out. I get a chance to get in some serious melodic 4ths lines with Bill.

7 – Rachel 6:31 - written for a wonderful human who presented our group at numerous concerts in Brooklyn. She died of cancer, too young, in the early 2000s...there are not many humans as wonderful as her and I wanted to celebrate what she brought into the world by writing this tune. The beginning is at once introspective and anthemic, then transitions into a raucous 12/8 feel.

8 – Ginger Foot 4:20 - like quickly and carefully dancing on a floor full of unbroken eggs. It’s based on Rhythm changes in Eb concert. Check out Jesse’s bass work on this one.

9 – Pacifisticuffs 4:11 - a written melody with no chords. It’s how one feels when one wants to knock the crap out of an antagonist but doesn’t believe in violence as a way to deal with conflict. Check out Johannes’ solo. Winning the war within isn’t an easy task to accomplish...and it’s never-ending.

All compositions by Dennis Mitcheltree, BMI ©&℗ 2021. Recorded December 9, 2021 at Samurai Hotel Recording Studio, New York City. Engineered and mixed by David Stoller at Samurai Hotel Recording Studio Mastered by Kevin Blackler at Blackler Mastering. Graphic design by Jamie Breiwick at B Side Graphics Photography by Josh Nessen and Sarah Becker Carrera

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