"On George DeLancey"
by Loren Schoenberg
Every so often a musician arrives in New York City who seems destined to make a mark. George DeLancey is clearly in that category. The instrument that the person chooses ultimately reveals their essence as an artist. The bass is, not surprisingly, a foundational instrument. As jazz has progressed over the years, it has fallen to the bass to really be at the root of everything that happens in any jazz genre that includes even a modicum of the traditional. The harmonic, rhythmic, melodic and timbral spheres all intersect with the specific notes that the bassist chooses to play. As a result of this big responsibility, many bassists spend their entire career addressing nothing but how best to be at the root of the music.
Every so often, however, a bassist will branch out and write music, and less often, create an ensemble of their own. The historical precedents for this go back as far as John Kirby in the 1930s, although his music was written by someone else. But it was slightly later that two bassists put their stamp on music and created their own ensembles with their own sounds – Charles Mingus and Oscar Pettiford. Since that time, many have followed in their footsteps, with varying degrees of originality and talent.
What distinguishes the young George DeLancey from most of his peers, whether they play the bass or not, is his maturity as a composer and as a bandleader. He has already played with so many top shelf musicians in and around New York that his status as a player is firmly established. But by virtue of the music in this collection, DeLancey steps out into a far more rarefied plain of composer/players who know how to pick precisely the best musicians to realize their concept. But that’s only where it starts. There are the many logistical and practical challenges that follow in navigating rehearsals, gigs, and how to best capture the music and recording atmosphere. The most significant factor however hasn't even been mentioned yet: that is the music itself.
It is very clear from the first notes of this collection that even at this young age, DeLancey has learned the lesson that it takes many artists a long time to learn: less is more. Each selection has been composed and performed with just the right leavening of ensembles and solos to leave a distinct impression. They get in and they get out. As Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Mingus and Wynton Marsalis have revealed through their music, DeLancey knows precisely which musicians to feature on which pieces. Far too often, jazz performances consist of marginal themes and then endless variations by everybody on the bandstand. That is not the case here. There really is no need for a musicological or journalistic investigation as you experience this album. For music as fresh and new as this is, it’s best just to let it sink in over repeated listenings, and trust me, the experience deepens with each successive visit.
DeLancey’s ensemble is comprised of what one might call a multi-generational band of young players, with the role of the elders held by Stacy Dillard and Aaron Diehl, who bring to the band experience in some of the most accomplished and respected groups in the jazz world today. You’ll meet them all in the best fashion possible, by virtue of their sounds, solos and stories that inform this most auspicious debut album created by a musician that many eyes are already solidly on.
The last word belongs to Aaron Diehl, who has known George for many years, and who means what he says:
“As early as high school, George always exhibited traits common in dedicated talent, including focused determination in the practice room. What has been most remarkable about his development is a desire to ‘play well with others.’ George not only loves to play the bass, but he makes other musicians feel like he wants to play with them. The recording of his debut album was no exception.
“This session date was my introduction to George’s writing, which highlighted cherished aspects of his musicianship—a strong foundation, melodic and harmonic charm, and a generous spirit. I am honored to have been a part of it.”