Bill’s first solo release was with 2014’s Find the Way. Now, Bill releases Passages, a 12-track album with 11 songs written and all produced by Bill.
This recording features performances by, of course, Bill Heller on keyboards, Jonathan Butler, Russ DeSalvo, Jay Prince, Allen Hinds, Ken Navarro, and Marc Antoine on guitar, Steve Jordan, Lee Finkelstein, Frank Bellucci, Brian Dunne, Joel Rosenblatt, and Dave Karasony on drums, Will Lee, Dave Anderson, Mike Hall, and Rico Belled on bass, Jeff Kashiwa on soprano and tenor saxes, Andy Snitzer and Chris Eminizer on tenor sax, John Scarpulla on tenor and baritone saxes, Brandon Fields on alto sax, Paula Atherton on flute, Luis Mercado on cello, John Arucci and Ronnie Gutierrez on percussion, and a colossal brass section of French horns, trumpets, and trombones.
The album begins with Passage, a cool number with John Arucci’s Steel Pan getting featured early. Bill’s piano is offset with the woodwinds and a roaring trombone from Dan Levine. The Russ DeSalvo guitar gives a windswept quality that makes this number take off. The song is constructed beautifully. This is how you start an album.
March Forth jumps out with the Steve Jordan drums and Will Lee bass laying down the great foundation for Bill’s piano that makes your eyes light up. The horns are right on and Jonathon Butler’s acoustic guitar is so fine. But one must admit, Bill’s piano gets the best hearing.
Jeff Kashiwa’s tenor sax is featured on Trying to Get Back Home and Bill’s piano pairs perfectly with him. Then the tenor sax, trombone, and trumpet take off on Again Later as Allen Hinds turns in a sweet guitar. But you have got to pay attention to Dave Anderson’s bass lines. Bill works the Hammond sound over it all as those horns and rhythms work it all so well. Marc Antione’s adds his own acoustic guitar signature to Viaggio, a gorgeous piece with excellent additions from Brandon Fields’ alto sax. This is wonderful.
The smoke returns with FT Shuffle and more of Anderson’s righteous bass. The horns are tight and Bill’s keyboards make you sweat. I mean that in a good way. Then the alto sax of Brandon Fields and the acoustic guitar of Ken Navarro team up for an excellent pairing on Journey’s End. One cool number here.
The Luis Mercado cello sets up with Dave Anderson’s fretless bass for gorgeous harmonies against Bill’s piano and Jeff Kashiwa’s soprano sax on The Flow. The cello and bass dialogue is stunning and Bill’s Fender Rhodes adds the melodic lines you love. This just might be my favorite track of the whole album. Looking Ahead features Paula Atherton’s sweet flute work with Ronnie Gutierrez’ cool percussion alongside Frank Bellucci’s drums and Mike Hall’s bass. Bill’s piano works in duet with the flute and the rhythm section drives it home.
Then comes the great surprise. On solo piano, Bill performs the Claude Debussy masterpiece, Clair de Lune. With programmed percussion and bass, the solo piano gives the gorgeous piece and Jazz tune-up that is wonderful. This one got replayed several times before I could move on.
Last Train, however, made it rewarding to move on. Andy Snitzer’s tenor sax is featured and Anderson and Brian Dunne give their great contributions on bass and drums. Bill’s percussive piano is well worth the listen. This was a memorable set-up for Leaving Orbit, the last track on Passage. Leaving Orbit begins with transmissions from NASA’s launch control and the imagery of blasting off is set beautifully. Intermittent transmissions are spaced throughout the tune to continue the portrayal. Bill turns in some cool keyboards with Allen Hinds’ guitar. The track ends with the famous words of Neil Armstrong from Tranquility Base.
As the title implies, Passage is Bill Heller’s method of conducting us beyond ourselves. Beginning with travels from ocean islands and concluding with departure from island Earth, Heller acts as guide and chronicler on our Passage. It is a sojourn worth taking, over and over again.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl