This year has already seen its share of top-shelf jazz and fusion releases. Here are six that have been in high rotation at the Modern Drummer offices over the past few months.


Chris Potter Underground Orchestra

Imaginary Cities

Drummer: Nate Smith

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra Imaginary Cities

The centerpiece of this remarkable disc is the four-part title track, clocking in at nearly forty minutes and furthering the case for saxophonist Chris Potter’s forward-thinking compositional acumen as well as his ability to put together brilliant musicians. On “Imaginary Cities Part 2: Dualities,” longtime Underground/Dave Holland drummer Nate Smith lays down a rims-and-rimclick groove over an 11/8 pulse, living deep inside Steve Nelson’s marimba pattern, and eventually ups the ante with hyped-up rolls and a wicked offbeat ride fill during the sax solo. Throughout, Smith plays nice with the strings, never overpowering any individual voice while still not being shy about bringing the consistent heat. Later, check out the drummer’s breaks on the funky and swinging “Firefly” and the way he locks in with electric bassist Fima Ephron on the set-closing “Sky.” (ECM)


Jack DeJohnette

Made in Chicago

Drummer: Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette Made in Chicago

This inspired 2013 live recording unites original members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, one of the experimental jazz powerhouses of the 1960s. Nothing has been lost to the years as a group of masters—saxophonists Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Larry Gray, and drummer DeJohnette—plays with real fire and abandon. Opener “Chant” is like a ride across Egypt, all circular melodies and hypnotic rhythms, and is followed by the drum-solo-infused “Jack 5,” the somersaulting “Leave Don’t Go Away,” and the madhouse free ride “Ten Minutes.” The extremely well-recorded Made in Chicago features some of DeJohnette’s most energetic and driving drumming in years. (ECM)


Christian Finger


Drummers: Christian Finger, Jeff Ballard

Christian Finger Ananda

Reflecting drummer/composer Finger’s globetrotting history, Ananda jumps from lush ballads to noise guitar while still managing to project a unified, almost modern-day third-stream vision. The straight-ahead swing and drum breaks on “For Now” almost seem out of place next to the bouncing tom support on “Nights Beyond, India” and multiple tracks featuring a string quartet, but Finger challenges the listener with variety and occasional percussive drama. Jeff Ballard appears on “African Skies, Drumming Lives: Boubacar’s Sons,” a drumming showcase that finds him and Finger laying down African patterns and incorporating deep melodicism in a nine-minute exchange. This is the kind of record where the intent isn’t to dazzle but to show how the drums can be woven into the overall tapestry. (Strikezone)


Wolff & Clark Expedition

Expedition 2

Drummer: Mike Clark

Wolff & Clark Expedition Expedition 2

Mike Clark is best known for laying down some serious funk-fusion with Herbie Hancock in the ’70s, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t come up swinging like everyone else in the ’60s. And swing he does on this high-energy romp through bop standards and hip originals, his second release with pianist Michael Wolff. Things get off to a hot start, with the drummer’s insistent ride on “Clark Bar” full of tough New York swagger. “Gingerbread Boy” is treated with some of that famous Clark linear funk, complete with fierce hat and snare doubles and bass drum accents. Clark plays with his fingers and brushes on the more subtle tunes, but the overall vibe here is propulsive jazz, executed with skill by a name player out to prove that he can wear any number of capes quite effectively. (Random Act)


Dave Stryker

Messin’ With Mister T

Drummer: McClenty Hunter

Dave Stryker Messin’ With Mister T

Marvelous guitarist Dave Stryker pays tribute to Stanley Turrentine, the late, great tenor saxophonist who served up jazz with heaps of blues ’n’ soul. As a former decade-long “Mister T” sideman, Stryker’s an authority. Each of the ten tracks features a stellar tenor guest, including Houston Person, Bob Mintzer, and Jimmy Heath. Driving the soloists is Stryker’s hard-swinging trio featuring organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter (assisted on six cuts by percussionist Mayra Casales). From the first bar of the deep-shuffle opener, “La Place Street,” Hunter hits the grooving sweet spot and never flags throughout the joyous disc. Sprung from church roots, Hunter has accompanied gospel notables as well as top jazz artists. (He’s currently with Kenny Garrett.) Here he intersects those worlds via his swinging pocket, delivering hard backbeats (“Don’t Mess With Mister T”), cracking funk (“Gibraltar), and breakneck straight-ahead topped by a scorching solo (“Impressions”). No messin” with Mister T here—just lovin’ him. (Strikezone)


Duduka Da Fonseca Trio

Jive Samba

Drummer: Duduka Da Fonseca

Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Jive Samba

The third outing from the Duduka Da Fonseca Trio is something of a full-circle affair for the Rio-born New York drummer: a set of ten well-loved Brazilian-inspired tunes penned by American jazz greats. Featuring pianist David Feldman and bassist Guto Wirtti, Da Fonseca’s superlative unit lends a breathing, interactive openness to the spirited rhythmic undercurrent of its members’ roots. On McCoy Tyner’s “Peresina,” Da Fonseca revs it up, grooving and soloing with spreading cymbals and elastic kit work in a nod to the famed McCoy/Elvin fellowship. In contrast, his silky brushwork on John Scofield’s “Sco’s Bossa” pulses with sexy subtlety. And on Keith Jarrett’s ever-popular “Lucky Southern,” the drummer percolates the ecstatic samba while infusing straight-ahead layers. Throughout, Da Fonseca’s grooving touch and painterly coloring artfully exploit the mutual chicken-or-egg influences between Brazilian sounds and American jazz. (Zoho)


Reviews by Ken Micallef, Ilya Stemkovsky, and Jeff Potter