Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Drummer-Led Albums (And A Piano Footnote)

Nasheet Waits' Equality: Alive at MPI is a fine album from last year that seems to have flown pretty far under the radar, especially considering who's on it.  I couldn't find much online about it other than a positive mini-review in one of Tom Hull's valuable, Christgau-style Jazz Consumer Guides and a combined review (like this one, I guess) on All About Jazz.  It may say something about the continued importance of record labels and their promotional capabilities that Jason Moran's recent Blue Note release, Ten, got a lot of well-deserved attention (for a jazz record) from NPR and other major outlets, but Equality (with the same personnel as Ten, plus saxophonist Logan Richardson), released on the tasteful but tiny Barcelona-based Fresh Sound, was mostly ignored.  If you're a fan of Ten, as I am, I would be surprised if you didn't dig Equality (it's definitely more of a RIYL thing than an Armond White-style "better than" thing).  After Waits pretty much blew my mind at a couple of recent performances, I wanted to find out what other recent albums he appeared on, and eventually came across Equality.  It's a great example of the discoveries to be made by digging into the discographies of players you admire. 

As I've mentioned before, there's something I really like about Moran when he's playing with saxophonists (his recent work with Apex comes to mind, as well as the ultimate Bandwagon+sax album, Black Stars), and he has plenty of great moments here.  Equality also showcases the talents of bassist Tarus Mateen particularly well - his "King Hassan", one of the album's highlights, features a funky, propulsive Moran-Mateen-Waits groove set against the longer tones and mysterious/exotic mode of Richardson's melody statement and solos.  Both Ten and Equality feature Jaki Byard tunes, and it's also interesting to compare the different approaches to Byard's "Mrs. Parker of K.C." on Equality and Fred Hersch's Whirl (Moran and Hersch* were both Byard students, although the influence is probably more evident in Moran's case).  The head is played just about the same on both records, but the approaches diverge pretty starkly from there.

Another drummer-led album I've been listening to lately is Billy Hart's Enhance from 1977 (I was tipped off by reading Ethan Iverson's revised 1973-1990 list, a great starting point if you're looking to expand your knowledge and record collection).  It's a tough one for me to pin down or briefly summarize.  There's a lot going on and several styles and sounds packed into seven tracks (perhaps because six different members of the ensemble contribute compositions - Oliver Lake has two).  Lake's presence may explain why I'm hearing a bit of the "St. Louis sound" (I'm thinking here of BAG, WSQ, and the later Julius Hemphill circle of associates and proteges) in the freewheeling group dynamic and the way bluesy harmonized passages comfortably share album space with "out"/free sections, particularly on "Hymn for the Old Year" (which also appeared a few years later on the WSQ masterpiece Revue).

I think I hear a bit of late Mingus, too, perhaps mostly in the playing of Don Pullen (who I really like on Mingus' Changes records) - Pullen fans should definitely check out this album.  Enhance documents a group of world-class musicians choosing intelligently from the all the sounds available to them, not preemptively rejecting any possibilities or following any stylistic dictates or dogma, which is to say that there's a lot of music here, enough to last for many, many listens.  The next Billy Hart I really want to get is Oshumare - it's Hart in the '80s, with Branford Marsalis and Steve Coleman instead of Enhance's Dewey Redman and Oliver Lake, Kenny Kirkland instead of Don Pullen, plus Bill Frisell!

*I've probably written about Fred Hersch enough on this blog, but I have to briefly mention that I saw the first set of his solo run at the Vanguard on Tuesday night.  Highlights of a set in which everything was up to his usual high standard included a new composition dedicated to Billy Strayhorn, "Hot House Flower", which seemed to evoke the longing and beautiful melancholy that are important components of both Hersch and Strayhorn's music, and a version of Monk's "I Mean You" with Hersch conducting a deep exploration of the tune that made the long-delayed direct statement of the head at the end sound like a triumph.  The set was being recorded (hopefully for a future release), but, unfortunately, somebody close to the mics knocked over a bottle in the middle of "I Mean You".  Knowing Hersch, though, he'll probably play an even better one by the end of the run.

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