Sep 27, 2009
One sign of equality in jazz bands these days is the number of recordings led by drummers. With the exception of a hand full of true legends (Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones), few drummers have had their names as bandleaders on more than one or two albums, even if they were crucial to the music. That seems to be going the way of the dodo now. Three new releases with drummers as session leaders show that the drummers are ready to take the lead in a big way.
On Towner Galaher’s second album, Courageous Hearts, he becomes the triple threat that Lenny White once predicted for him – a strong composer, a great drummer and a solid bandleader. Galaher wrote seven of the nine tunes, and the compositions give the musicians ample space to stretch out. Galaher kicks a number of tunes into overdrive from the beginning, particularly “Boogaloobop”. “Second Line Samba” is a good example of the power of Galaher’s musical vision. Brian Lynch’s trumpet, Fred Wesley’s funky trombone, and Craig Handy’s sax set the tune, but Galaher is a whirling dervish behind them, his drum fills making the listener take real notice. George Colligan (piano) and Charles Fambrough (bass) have their hands full keeping the bottom going, but they’re up to the task. Colligan has a particularly strong solo on “Winter Sunrise”. Covers of the classics “Afro Blue” and “Hot House” are welcome additions to a fine group recording.
Alvin Queen has produced another soul-jazz killer with Mighty Long Way. Many of the musicians that made last year’s I Ain’t Looking At You so much fun are back, making a celebratory sound. Terll Stafford (Trumpet) and Jesse Davis (Alto Sax) are out in front, with Peter Bernstein (Guitar) and a wailing Mike LeDonne (Hammond B3 organ) making themselves known on songs like Oscar Peterson’s “Sushi” and covers of classics like “Cape Verdean Blues” and “I Got a Woman”. The heavy rhythm section is Queen on drums, Neil Clarke on Conga Drums and Percussion, and Elias Bailey on bass, and they turn the closing track, “The Drum Thing”, into a percussion battle royale. If you’re a fan of Jimmy Smith or George Benson’s recordings with Jack MacDuff, this is for you.
Ben Perowsky has cut his chops in the New York “downtown scene”, working with John Zorn, Uri Caine and Dave Douglas. Esopus Opus is a quartet recording that recalls some of that energy and imagination, while mixing in a love of late-sixties rock, especially the Beatles. “Key Lime” is a reimagined New Orleans street march featuring Ted Reichman’s accordion, and “Murnau on the Bayou” could serve as soundtrack music for HBO’s “True Blood”. It’s the rock covers that really stand out here, with Chris Speed providing ethereal solos on Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” and George Harrison’s :”Within You Without You”. The latter tune gives Perowsky room to provide particularly memorable color to the group’s sound, as does the definitive version of the Beatles’ “Flying”.