By Hrayr Attarian
Wallace Roney Blue Dawn – Blue Nights
Wallace Roney – Trumpet
Emilio Modeste – Tenor and soprano saxophones
Oscar Williams II – Piano
Paul Cuffari – Bass
Kojo Odu Roney – Drums (1, 4, 6–8)
Lenny White – Drums (1–3, 5)
Quintin Zoto – Guitar (1, 3, 5)
On Blue Dawn – Blue Nights, his twenty-second release as a leader, trumpeter Wallace Roney has put together an outstanding quintet consisting of up-and-coming talent. Together, they interpret eight lesser-known compositions with sensitivity and panache. The younger sidemen are all superlative artists and they maintain their footing in Roney’s august presence. Roney, in turn, allows them plenty of opportunity to shine.
Vocalist Mary Stallings’ “Why Should There Be Stars” opens with pianist Oscar Williams II’s shimmering notes. Bassist Paul Cuffari, with his warm, reverberating strings and Roney, with his expressive and mellifluous horn, join Williams—enhancing the tune’s nocturnesque ambience. The exquisitely lyrical three-way exchanges flow seamlessly and with lithe elegance.
Drummer Lenny White makes a guest appearance on a few tracks, as on his own “Wolfbane,” which he drives with propulsive polyrhythms. The band performs the catchy melody with a soulful swagger. Roney launches into a sophisticated and intricate improvisation marked by his signature burnished tone. Saxophonist Emilio Modeste matches Roney’s intensity with his own muscular and agile, spontaneous lines.
Another guest, guitarist Quintin Zoto, sets the romantic ambience with his eloquent strums on “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Roney solos with longing and reserved passion while Modeste exhibits poignant emotion and poetic sensibility with his moving extemporization. The group’s rumbling backdrop further underscores the delightful tension of the piece.
The ensemble’s regular drummer is Roney’s fifteen-year-old nephew, Kojo Odu Roney. A child prodigy, the younger Roney started drumming barely out of the toddler years and, over the past three years, has honed his skills under the tutelage of his father, saxophonist Antoine Roney. On the contemplative “In A Dark Room,” he provides rhythmic color with his splashing cymbals and subtle beats. Meanwhile, on the fast-paced “Venus Rising,” he lets loose a thunderous cadence in response to the other musicians’ blistering hot phrases.
Blue Dawn – Blue Nights is more than another, uniformly superb, Wallace Roney album. It is also an outlet for his protégés to demonstrate their skills. With his youth spent learning from greats like Miles Davis, Roney knows the value of mentorship in the success of his art. Furthermore, he excels at it. The current record is ample testament to that.