Bill Heller : Passage Review
Bill Heller is best known as the keyboard player for the legendary Grammy-nominated jazz group the Rippingtons. In addition, Heller has served as the Musical Director for the Long Island Music Hall of Fame awards shows for over ten years, providing arrangements and incidental music. These shows have featured performances by such acts as Daryl McDaniels of RUN-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Little Anthony, and the Imperials, Gary US Bonds, Felix Cavaliere and The Lovin Spoonful, Charlie Daniels, Eddie Money, Steve Vai, Vince Giordano, and more. Some of the legends inducted at these shows have included Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Jimmy Webb, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Clive Davis, Ron Delsner, Lou Reed, Eddie Palmieri, and Charles Koppelman, and Steven Van Zandt. As a recording artist, Heller composed and produced his first album, Find the Way, in 2014. His current 2021 release is titled Passage and contains twelve compositions written and produced by Heller. This recording features performances by Jonathan Butler, Steve Jordan, Will Lee, Marc Antoine, Ken Navarro, Jeff Kashiwa, Brandon Fields, Andy Snitzer, Allen Hinds, Paula Atherton, Dave Karasony, Brian Dunne, Joel Rosenblatt, Frank Bellucci, Rico Belled, Dave Anderson, and Mike Hall and many more.
The title track, “Passage,” starts our journey through Heller’s musical realm. The song has a cinematic overtone as the various instruments layer into the sonic field. Heller’s sense of drama is delightful, and the instrumentation of the French Horn, trombone, woodwinds, and steel pan add an exotic character to the melody. The song features intense soloing from the leader along with guitarist Russ DeSalvo. As the music weaves through different textures and expansive orchestrations, it is apparent that Heller is a master of sonic qualities. The song’s intensity is also very balanced, letting the melody flow naturally between each development and section.
“Journeys End” has an upbeat feel with a happy melody and more interesting textures. Featuring Ken Navarro on guitar and Brandon Fields on alto saxophone, the solo sections are energetic and build even more interest. Heller’s solo and trading with Fields push the intensity to the closing section. Heller keeps a balance between written material and improvisation that always gives the listener much interesting sonics to listen to and follow along with through the song form.
Passage shows a fully developed organization of Heller’s compositional process as he does a marvelous job unearthing so many great melodies, and the various ensembles bristle with energy as they play outstanding performances throughout the album. But, make no mistake, Heller is a veteran at work, issuing a strong recording of many styles, textures, and feels – a must-hear.
August 27, 2021