"2 5 1" by Dan Dean with George Duke, Gil Goldstein,
Larry Goldings and Kenny Werner

(Origin Records 82557)

If you are musically hip, please be patient. For the rest, let's begin with the universal anthem of all amateur pianists, "Chopsticks." Imagine you are Tom Hanks or Robert Loggia in that cinematic fantasy, "Big," and jump on F and G. I assume you can find those notes. Dissonant, right? That's because they clash; no black note between them. They're as close as Rimsky and Korsakov and they represent not merely the beginning of "Chopsticks," but the start of an important harmonic pattern, 2-5-1. In addition to being the title of this album, those numbers indicate root tones of the scales controlling the opening chords of, you guessed it, "Chopsticks" (and for that matter, "Tea for Two", "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Everything Happens to Me," and a million others, give or take a dozen.)
Now don't be intimidated by slightly technical talk. The beauty of this album lies in its highly personal language: an incredibly skillful, occasionally dissonant, often poetic, but always swinging demonstration of how jazz has evolved. The driving force behind this exciting session, bassist Dan Dean, converses with various keyboardists. They are extremely intimate conversations - very little is arranged - with only general agreement on musical templates: how to approach the ten standards and one George Duke original; settling on tempos; when to change keys; and what emerged were remarkable dialogs. Each player listened carefully to how the other was comping, listened for melodic ideas that could be complemented or duplicated - a favorite device of quick-reacting jazz improvisers.
The four brilliant keyboard players meeting minds with Dan Dean are pianists Kenny Werner, George Duke and Gil Goldstein, the latter doubling on accordion; and Larry Goldings, Hammond B-3 organ, with Dean coaxing impossible sounds from his bass. Wisely, there is one keyboardist per track, preserving the give and take of the basic duo while displaying the disparate stylings and techniques of four keyboard virtuosi.

Kenny Werner literally launches the tune with a pithy 7-note pickup phrase, and by 0:41, Werner and Dean have a mutual urge to tamper with time. (Boys will be boys.) It's best not to dance; merely listen. After they get it out of their systems, it's straight-ahead jazz until 1:39 when Dan unveils a different sound in his comping: using a Freddie Green-inspired strummed bass line based on octaves, triple and quadruple stops. At 2:14, Werner slips in the title phrase, ‘S Wonderful," rather angularly, triggering a brief, bi-tonal call-and-response from Dean. By 2:41, the duo is swinging intensely thanks to the bass technique referred to earlier. Werner shows no signs of slowing down, but in his 49th chorus, at 3:30, he suddenly quotes from another Gershwin copyright, "I Got Rhythm." Dan cites eminent domain and takes over, firmly announcing ‘S Wonderful in as many keys as he can. Seriously, from there it swings to a satisfying conclusion, tying everything up with a neat unison lick.

Cynics might ask how much preparation is needed to play a bossa with only one note? They should listen to Dan Dean and Hammond B-3 organist Larry Goldings giving what amounts to a master class in rhythmic sophistication. They prove that you don't need a dozen percussionists if the instrumentalists furnish their own, non-stop rhythmic language. Dan's lines seem to float and bounce where they're supposed to. As for Goldings‘ chordal cushions: all velvet. What are those strange sounds in the intro and coda? Dean's bass shooting cynics.

A beautiful song deserves special treatment, and this Kern classic is given a very special makeover as Dan is joined by pianist Gil Goldstein. Their rapport can be felt instantly as they work out a variety of thematic ideas in the introduction. It isn't until 0:42 that a familiar melodic phrase is heard (a detail from the release, repeated at 1:10.) The only familiar phrase is announced, in unison, at 1:52, and yet it's not from Kern's line. It comes from the inventive Charlie Parker arrangement of the tune.
When the song officially begins, at 2:07, the tempo derived from the unison bop figure seems to fall quite naturally into a comfortable medium tempo. With equal comfort, it also falls into a fragmented approach to the melody. It is clearly Gil's option to stretch out, but a strange thing takes place (4:27): neither one solos. For the next few choruses, they both comp! It suddenly sounds like Music Minus One. Remember that? Recordings were made of instrumental backings or just rhythm sections comping, allowing a singer or instrumentalist to sing or play with professional accompaniment. (End of digression.) The beauty of hearing the cubistic dissection of Kern's lovely melody (or more precisely, the cycle of fifths wed to the melody) allows you to hum the tune -- a line you always unmistakably hear. There are two brief interruptions worth pointing out: a sudden meeting, in unison, at 7:12; and at 7:20, Gil decides to ask the rhetorical question, "Who Can I Turn To?" At 7:54, the start of another chorus, Dan provides a jaunty, shuffle style of comping, and when the out chorus begins at 9:06, the tune eventually fades out, and, inevitably, remains unresolved.

George Duke makes his initial appearance, and comes well-prepared with an original, "It's On." It is gospel-tinged and funk-flavored, and generates a great deal of musical camaraderie. It's obvious that ideas will never dry up. Think 1-4-5, as in the blues. Jazz creativity never dies.

This has to be one of the most graceful swingers in the repertoire. Harmonically, it is one of the most challenging, like its creator, Herbie Hancock. It provides quite a feast for pianist Kenny Werner, who rejoins Dan, not for a frenetic exchange of pyrotechnics, but a quiet, civilized conversation between two swinging cetaceans.

Goldings and his B-3 return, and he immediately sets not only the tempo, but the overall mood of this atmospheric classic by Hoagy Carmichael. No elaborate intro necessary; just four beats, and by the third beat Dan has grabbed on to the train and they're off to the lazy climes of the deep south. Things to listen for: the skipping, pushing beat on the bass 1:07 and 3:19; and some delicious intervals on organ at 1:37 and again at 2:45. Don't get me wrong; listen to the whole track. You don't want to miss Dan picking away at 5:27 and again at 6:22. Ditto for the fading filigrees by Goldings at the very end.

After a rhapsodic intro, a rubato first chorus, and an elegant second chorus, pianist George Duke gets a chance to display his chops, a skill that would be the envy of any concert pianist. For evidence supporting that claim, check out his unbelievable runs at 2:40, first by the right hand, then both hands, in harmony yet. Before Duke begins his first improv chorus, he employs a characteristic device: repeated notes, as if to say, "wait, I'm thinking." (If you miss it, he repeats the introspection at 4:53.) During his comping, Dan comes up with a humorous sound: walking with bent, almost wobbly tones, plus an exaggerated vibrato, conjuring up an image of walking bowlegged. He also furnishes some interesting clusters at 3:24. (If you miss it, clusters' last stand repeats at 4:09.)

Goldings and Dean reappear as the Blues Brothers (Down & Dirty) with the James Brown classic to show that there's nothing wrong with a little fusion. In fact they show it can swing. To prove it, Dan adds some bi-tonal boogaloo (2:44) and manages to end on a flatted fifth to strengthen (or weaken) his credentials for a gig at the Apollo.

The atmosphere for "Lover Man" is directly related to the timbre of the instrumentation involved: accordion and bass. Gil Goldstein coaxes a gorgeous sound from his squeeze-box, but Dan and Gil can't decide whether to return to the rubato of the opening or state a specific rhythm, even though both instruments are capable of bass lines. A tentative rhythm is set at 1:22, but it disperses at 2:01. It returns at 2:37 amid funky overtones, lasting until 4:46. A decision to end "Lover Man" is put off until 6:55, when they extend it once more, opting to leave the matter unresolved.

No matter what kind of tune you've just come from, moving on to Thelonious Monk always guarantees a complete change of pace. In this case, his salute to Buddy Montgomery proves to be a perky, quirky swinger for Dan and Larry Goldings on the B-3. No intro needed; they just plow straight ahead, and the road is unobstructed, until the first and only detour: shortly after Dan begins his jazz chorus, he recalls, at 2:44, an old Benny Goodman chart, "Seven Come Eleven," by Charlie Christian. From there, it's on to one last challenge.

For the finale, Dan and pianist Kenny Werner turn to Johnny Green's durable standard that jazz players love to explore, not only for its rich harmonies, but for its key changes in the release and the turnaround with that downward chromatic return to the final eight bars.
Throughout the ballad, there's a mood of hushed reverence - not just for each other. That kind of respect, between Dean and his various partners, is heard and felt throughout the entire album. It's clearly the choice of material; "Body and Soul" is the kind of song that brings out the best in creative musicians, and it's been doing so ever since Coleman Hawkins first dissected it in 1939.

Here are a couple of highlights for you and your time code: at 2:51, there's a cute little flutter by Werner. Sure as soul follows body, Dean comes up with an echo at 2:56. And at 6:03, Kenny begins the release quoting Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring." As soon as Dan senses that Werner is going a full 8 bars (that's long for a quote), he decides to tag along for the ride.
Like "Lover Man," "B & S" threatens to go into an extended cadenza, but after a bit of counterpoint, the duo calls it a session and there's an unequivocal resolution.

Harvey Siders
Jazz Times