Dig These Dug-Ups
Three discs of previously unreleased sessions capture jazz giants swung by drumming greats.
It’s not uncommon for “unearthed” recordings issued long after an artist’s passing to be shoddy affairs. But three recent jazz releases take the high road, offering quality audio with beautifully designed and informative packaging.
The prize nugget among this gold panning is Bill Evans’ Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance). A fine addition to the great pianist’s catalog, this June 1968 trio session was recorded live before a radio studio audience in the Netherlands. Featuring bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer JACK DEJOHNETTE, the performances are sterling.
There’s special historical interest for drummers here. DeJohnette’s stint with the trio lasted only six months. Until recently, his contributions had been documented on just one Evans disc, the Grammy-winning At the Montreux Jazz Festival (Verve). Last year, Resonance Records released the studio recording Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest, featuring the same trio. This new live companion disc—recorded only two days following that studio date—offers a more spontaneous perspective.
It’s intriguing to hear DeJohnette’s impact on the classic trio, favoring a more aggressive approach than previous drummers. On The Hilversum Concert’s cooking opener, “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” Jack frequently takes charge; suggesting direction, he prods Evans and alternates between laying it down and freely opening things up. And on “Nardis,” he seizes the day with a four-minute-plus solo, building a thrilling free-time mini-suite that leaves the distinctive DJ stamp on the concert.
Another laudable Resonance release is Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse by the Wynton Kelly Trio and Wes Montgomery. Taken from a nightclub radio broadcast, it’s an upbeat, seriously swinging affair. Pianist Kelly and guitarist Montgomery were an ideal matchup, as immortalized on the 1965 classic Smokin’ at the Half Note (Verve), recorded seven months before this April 1966 Seattle date. The pair—who phrase as one—deliver their joyful swing with a bluesy edge. And their rhythm mates, legendary drummer JIMMY COBB and new bassist Ron McClure, are deep in that same groove.
Cobb wields his iconic, straight-ahead, mile-wide cymbal ride, hitting cracking accents in all the right places. Check out the Montgomery-penned blazer “Jingles,” where Cobb transports the quartet to its popping edge. It’s all good feel and taste with this kit master.
Not as substantial but still historically significant is Thelonious Monk’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam/Saga). The two-CD set features Monk’s sole soundtrack venture from the controversial French film directed by Roger Vadim. In-cluded is the complete thirty minutes of film music plus outtakes, all previously unreleased on disc.
Pianist Monk was known for his musical genius but certainly not for reliability: He arrived at the film session with no new material or any regard for specified cue lengths. Instead, he blew through repertoire tunes, mostly culled from his Riverside LPs. On the Monk-o-scale, it’s a middling effort. He did, however, bring top-flight sidemen, including tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Sam Jones, and swing master ART TAYLOR. French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen also guests admirably on several tracks.
The recording’s capture of Taylor’s drumming with Monk is a plus, as the pair has a limited recorded output together. On this set, the drummer’s percolating swing power is especially strong on “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Throughout the date, Taylor determinedly swings with lean authority, leaving plenty of space for Monk to freely explore his quirky, asymmetric piano phrasings.
The outtakes are primarily of interest to completists. Yet even in that context there is one downright head-scratcher. A “making of” track of the tune “Light Blue” is torturous for casual listeners and confounding for fans. Monk dictates to Taylor an oddly stark, mechanical, repeated six-note drum part. Perhaps intended to be ultra-quirky, the part is just plain bonkers. A dark cloud of frustration gathers—maybe because of Taylor’s misunderstanding of the pattern, or because he’s peeved (“The bass drum starts on the ‘&’ of 1!” Monk stresses repeatedly). The awkward ordeal stretches over fourteen minutes. Wherever the mystery lies, the inclusion of the track is questionable on multiple levels. Most jazz fans can pass on this, but Monk and Taylor devotees will find much for the digging. Jeff Potter
Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr Landed in Brooklyn
Dan Tepfer Trio Eleven Cages
With NATE WOOD behind the kit, the “rules” of jazz are out the window, and it’s a glorious thing.
The brothers Wasserfuhr (Julian on trumpet and Roman on piano) employ a slew of hot sidemen on their latest album of acoustic fusion, including saxophonist Donny McCaslin and bassist Tim Lefebvre. Nate Wood grooves like mad on “Tutto,” laying back just enough to make things flow before moving to his ride beautifully. Check out Wood’s take on a cover of Sting’s “Seven Days,” which finds the drummer respecting Vinnie Colaiuta’s original vibe but owning the odd-time pulse with his own involved cymbal work and superb touch. A couple of swingers also show that these players can spang-a-lang with the best of them.
Wood sounds at home in Kneebody, a collective that’s the very definition of contemporary electric jazz. That group’s latest, Anti-Hero, allows Wood to rock out often but also play the most intricate rhythms while always supporting the song structure. “Drum Battle” skips from a spacious hip-hop pattern to an aggressive odd-time backbeat section during which Wood switches his ride sources and snares at will. The solo over the vamp is a study in controlled phrasing and killer accents.
Pianist Dan Tepfer’s Eleven Cages is broadly acoustic piano trio fare, but it’s no less adventurous. Along with upright bassist Thomas Morgan, Wood coaxes the mystery out of Tepfer’s dark compositions with fresh ideas. Dig the off-kilter punctuations in the middle of “547,” with Wood working the dynamic spectrum between his ride, snare, and toms, and the way he dresses the insistent propulsion of “Roadrunner” with snare ghosting and technical smoothness. Wood has long been a player to watch, but now he’s a player to study. Ilya Stemkovsky
Dale Crover The Fickle Finger of Fate
The heaviest drummer on earth shows his lighter side.
Playing in the mad-science Melvins for more than three decades, Dale Crover has seen his fair share of studio experimentation. But his success with the limited edition 2016 twelve-sided-vinyl solo release Skins—full of short, strange pieces he calls “drum haikus”—encouraged him to keep making his own music. Now he’s released his first full-length solo album. The Fickle Finger of Fate, on which Crover supplies most of the instruments and vocals, pulls some tracks right from Skins and expands on others, alternating these psychedelic drum showcases with longer, more pop-oriented verse/chorus-type songs. One of the album’s main thrills is its constant shifts in sound and style. Along with coproducer Toshi Kasai, who’s a longtime Melvins conspirator, Crover explores drum tones from tight and dry to big and resonant. Sometimes drums are manipulated sonically to the point where they don’t sound like drums, and that’s a lot of fun. It’s no surprise that you can hear the Melvins at times in Crover’s solo material, but Fickle Finger also shows a fondness for the straightforward charms of a good, simple song. (Joyful Noise) Michael Parillo
New Standard Duo New Standard Duo
This drums-and-sax duo does its best to fill in the space and the imagination.
Inspired by John Coltrane’s sax/drums duet album with Rashied Ali, Interstellar Space, this disc from a pairing of University of Illinois doctoral students glides along similar terrain in instrumentation only. Not to say that the standards cut by tenor saxophonist Robert Brooks and drummer ERIC BINDER aren’t inspired. Binder’s solo in 7/8 on “Night and Day” has space and melody, and “Resolution” is swinging and urgent, with some nice cymbal and tom work. The arrangements have thought in them, and Brooks and Binder are clearly listening to each other, though at times it simply sounds as if there’s a bass missing. Interstellar Space was a conversation on the fringes, with Trane fully “out” and Ali’s rumbling chatter meeting the saxophonist in the land of the “free” (jazz). Here, the music is so straight-ahead that one’s ear occasionally yearns for an anchor. But if extended drum solos and strong interplay are your thing, check out Binder’s solid playing. (Ropeadope) Ilya Stemkovsky
TAKING THE REIGNS
On its second album, this piano-based trio balances tunefulness with technique.
MEM3’s Circles finds a trio elaborating on its knack for incorporating an array of diverse influences into modern jazz. While the melodic textures would be at home in a variety of contexts, ERNESTO CERVINI’s drumming here is especially noteworthy for its ability to blur the lines between swung jazz pattern and chill backbeat, creating a pulse that draws as much from experimental electronic music as from traditional jazz drumming. Album opener “Centrical” finds Cervini highlighting the myriad tonal possibilities of delicate snare brushwork before exploding into a propulsive, shoe-gazing rock groove without ever picking up sticks. On “Shire Song,” an impressively manic snare-ride pattern plays against moody piano improvisations to great effect. All in all, Circles proves an interesting playground for the trio’s seemingly limitless ability to blend the tuneful with the technically impressive. (mem3.com) Keaton Lamle
Other Drummer-Leds to Check Out
Stanton Moore With You in Mind /// Jonas Johansen Charmcatcher /// Tony Martucci Quintet Ancestral Voices /// Richard X. Heyman Incognito /// Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh Expedition