Thursday, January 23, North Street Cabaret, 8 p.m. Info
Pianist and composer Wilder Deitz leads an ensemble that works along a continuum of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, offering a fresh and joyous perspective on the many points where those categories bleed together. The lineup can change a lot between shows and recording sessions, but Deitz’s group has consistently managed to balance accessibility with a rich understanding of their historical and musical context, often tying it all together with the show-stopping efforts of a rotating cast of vocalists including Deja Mason, Chakari Woods, Nikeya Bramlett, and Bobbie Briggs. On a 2017 summer mixtape that was available only as a CD at live shows, Deitz and company showed off their boisterous side, with help from Madison MCs like Protege The Pro, though tracks like the somber, tense “Song For A Slave Mother” opened up a whole other dimension for the group. At this North Street Cabaret show, Deitz will be celebrating the release of Y’all, a new album that’s available only on vinyl and finds his cast of collaborators in a more restrained mood.
“With earlier songs, and especially on the mixtape, I often wrote about that which infuriated me,” Deitz says. “Now I mostly write about that which enchants me.” Percussionists Matt Allen and Jacob Bicknase and bassist Sam Galligan supply their share of funky grooves here, especially on the instrumental “Workin’ On Em” and the cheeky strut of “Sun Dance (For Cooper),” but the vast majority of Y’all is decidedly focused on pulling back and contemplating. Mason’s vocals and Deitz’s lyrics on “Sweatin’ The Joneses” celebrate the importance of love and strong relationships over material wealth, as Deitz’s electric piano plays gracefully off his brother Mitch’s bright guitar figures. But it’s Chance Stine’s flute solo, toward the end, that really brings the track to its gently euphoric apex. “Darbo Worthington Davis,” framed in glittering synth chords, honors the enduring impact of bassist and UW-Madison professor Richard Davis, its title referring to an east-side street that was recently re-named for Davis.
The first side of the album closes with the instrumental “Spirit’s Lullaby (For Ikal),” which illustrates that taking it down a notch diminishes none of the group’s lively interplay. Mitch Deitz’s guitar line weaves between Wilder’s arrangement of both electric and acoustic piano, and the arrangement pulls back to make way for Alex Charland’s raspy but subdued tenor sax solo. While the record and the group is simply attributed to Wilder Deitz, the group dynamic is key to making these compositions come alive. “Every part was more or less written for a particular player’s style, and, happily, most of those players will be there Thursday to perform those parts,” he says. The record does close with one solo-piano track, “Meditation On Compassion,” composed in tribute to the late Rev. Jack Hicks, whom Wilder Deitz calls “the Midwest’s answer to Fred Rogers.”
Deitz is currently also working on a set of classical compositions that he hopes to release this spring. “It’s called ‘Border Suite’ and is a reflection on the places, people and politics of several different borderlands,” he says. “It will be my first effort in both the classical and solo piano idioms, and I’m really proud of how it’s shaping up. I’ve found that this writing will demand some new virtuosity from me as a player, and I’m excited to take on the challenge of actually playing this stuff.” None of Y’all‘s tracks are currently available to stream online, so here’s Deitz’s rendition of the Reading Rainbow theme: