Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sing The Songs of Drummers and Others

Coming to jazz through John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, I did not realize the import of organ trios until doing a deep dive into Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and others in the mid-1970s.  One can understand the influence of gospel music on jazz when he hears a Hammond B-3 organ swelling its way through changes.

Drummer, composer, and devilish wit Jochen Rueckert has assembled a small group for his latest album "Stars and Garters" (self-released).  The basic band is drums, tenor saxophone (Chris Cheek), and organ (Brian Charette) with guest guitarists Jeff Miles (on three tracks) and Yotam Silberstein (on two tracks)

The 11-song program has its share of swingers, rockers, and ballads. Opening with the easy-grooving "Corey and Trevor" and then moving right into "Finger Finger", one might expect the album to be a late-night set at a downtown bar. Cheek plays with controlled abandon in the style of Hank Mobley, especially on the latter track. Silberstein joins the trio and bounces along atop the dancing drums.  Next the band (with Miles on guitar) rips into "Mind Parasite", a tune by Ryan Power –– it's a rip-roaring rocker that, at high volume, shakes the speakers to their core.  Of course, the next track, "Radioland", is a quiet, Latin-esque, medium-tempo treat with soft burbling organ, delight drumming on the toms, and a pleasing tenor solo.

The title track brings one right back to the 1950s and 60s organ trio. Charette keeps a steady bass line –– when he solos, he and Rueckert have a swinging interaction. They don't rush, don't settle for cliches, they just play.  In another unexpected move, the trio (plus Miles) interprets The Deftones' 1997 tune "My Own Summer", keeping the melody and chord structure but toning does the punk-rock mayhem save for the hard-edged guitar sounds.

"Stars and Garters" closes with one more cover.  "Cannonball" was a hit in the mid-1990s for The Breeders; The trio (plus Silberstein) capture the nervous quality of the original yet also make the piece swing like mad. Even if you don't know the original, this version is a lot of f-u-n!  And we all need a big dose of that these days...actually, just about any time.  Hats to Jochen Rueckert and his gang who knocked the album out in a couple of hours just this past March 5, before the world went into lockdown.

To find out more and to purchase, go to

Here's a swinger!:

Drummer Phil Haynes (pictured left) can be heard in a number of different groups, several of which he leads.  His saxophone trio with Dave Liebman as well as a duo with the NEA Jazz Master, Free Country (his radical and fascinating interpretations of Country songs), organ trios, and more plus solo drum programs, all point to a person for whom borders are meant to be crossed if not ignored all together.  Haynes also performs in a piano trio with bassist Drew Gress and pianist Steve Rudolph, an ensemble for whom melody and improvisation, swing and flow, are of the utmost important.

In 2009, the trio recorded its debut album under the three musicians names with the title "Day Dream".  That's now their collective name and their second album, "Originals" (CornerStore Jazz), is just that; 10 new compositions, four by Rudolph and three each by Gress and Haynes. The music and performances are reminiscent of the work of Bill Evans, Fred Hersch, and Frank Kimbrough.  What stands out is both the musicianship and the lyricism –– you can hum these melodies but the joy of the music is hearing how the trio interacts.  Solos grow intelligently out of the melody, easily flowing from composition to improvisation and back.  If you take your time to listen deeply, each song stands out.

There's the Evans-esque beauty of Rudolph's "Wedding Waltz" (listen to how Gress underlines the melody and Haynes color with his cymbals) as well as Gress's mysterious, hypnotic, "Afterwards" with its ascending then descending bass line over a steady 4/4 beat. One of Haynes's three contributions, "Spell", opens with a swinging brushes solo, dramatic piano chords as well as a bluesy bass line. Gress goes right through the melody into his solo and an impressive one it is.  He dances atop the funky rhythm turning the spotlight over to Rudolph who gets in the groove and does not let it go! The drummer also composed "Beloved Refracted" (listen below), a melody built on a two-handed piano theme and powerful interaction between Rudolph and Gress.

"Originals" closes with the bassist's "Let Fly", a bopping tune with both a bluesy feel and a delightful swing.  Day Dream will not put you to sleep –– instead, it's an album that you can listen to in one sitting and then listen again.  Steve Rudolph, Drew Gress, and Phil Haynes are a trio of equals and the music they create together is powerful, music with a heart!

Here's a taste:

Photo: Peter Gasnnushkin
Drummer, composer, and bandleader Chad Taylor (on the left) may be best-known as the co-founder (with trumpeter Rob Mazurek) of the Chicago Underground Duo. The Arizona native grew up in Chicago where he worked with Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell, Matana Roberts, Ken Vandermark, and so many others.  Currently, he's working in a duo setting with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, in guitarist Marc Ribot's ensemble, with trumpeter Jaime Branch, saxophonist Avram Fefer, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and others.  He's issued three albums under his own name including 2018's solo percussion album "Myths and Morals" (my review here).

Photo: Paul de Lucena
The drummer has a new trio that bears his name, featuring tenor saxophonist Brian Settles (Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Formanek, Jonathan Finlayson) and pianist Neil Podgurski (Tim Warfied, Captain Black Big Band).  The trio has just released its debut album,  "The Daily Biological" (Cuneiform Records) –– Taylor has known his bandmates since the 1990s but they did not coalesce as an ensemble until several years ago. Taylor had moved to Philadelphia four or five years back after splitting time between Chicago and New York City. The pianist has lived in Philly for over two decades while Settles has moved back to his native Washington D.C. so the band is not too far apart.

The album, composed of all originals pieces by the trio members, is startling, music that verges on "free" yet there are times when the beat is so powerful it feels as if the drums could knock you off your feet.  The opening track, "The Shepherd", roars out of the gate driven by Taylor's conversational drums, Settles' powerful tenor (he's the composer), and Podgurski's thunderous attack. Because the drums are so well-miked and up front in the mix and the pianist has such a strong left hand, one does not miss a bassist.  Depending on your speakers, the bass drum thump is quite noticeable.  The pianist's "Resistance" starts quietly, the piano chords and crisp cymbal sound leading to Settles and Podgurski reading the theme.  Settles stays with the poignant theme while the pianist takes a powerful solo with Taylor ramping up the intensity.  The trio calls down for just a second when the saxophonist begins his solo but soon he's being pushed by the drums and insistent piano.

Photo: Paul de Lucena
There is so much to enjoy in the hour+ recording.  "Birds, Leaves, Wind, Trees" is a delightfully impressionistic piece from Podgurski with the trio taking parts throughout.  Settles and Taylor argue like two birds fighting over a crust of bread, then Podguski joins with his notes dropping like rain on the leaves.  "Swamp" kicks butt in the opening moments, stopping for an unaccompanied tenor solo that blends longer lines with fluttering notes and silence. The pianist takes over, engaging in a rapid-fire dialogue with Taylor that builds in intensity until the composer Settles returns to join the pianist in the bass line while the drummer solos through to the fade.

Photo: Paul de Lucena
The final two tracks, penned by Taylor, include the thunderous "Recife", which opens with a muscular drum solo over a repetitive figure by the sax and piano. Then the pianist takes over for a short statement and Settles gets the final minute through to the fade. The program ends with the longest track, the 12-minute "Between Sound and Silence" –– the drummer has the opening minute to himself before Settles jumps in followed shortly by Podgurski.  The piano lines have a nervous feel prodded by the drums as the saxophonist struts and frets atop them.  The music quiets down, Podgurski's searching piano lines move the piece forward, heading towards silence, supported only by a distant rumble of floor toms. When the saxophonist returns, he plays a gentle, gospel-influenced melody, over the tolling piano.  Taylor returns, his drumming raising the intensity level but not pushing the emotions to the background.  The tolling piano continues while Settles searching and Taylor's shimmering cymbal create a stunning final 30 seconds.

"The Daily Biological", if you listen deeply, will change your idea of "power trios."  No over-amped guitars, fuzzy bass lines, no ponderous drums; instead, this is music teeming with ideas, interactions, inventive solos, intelligent writing, and more.  Such an auspicious recorded debut for the Chad Taylor Trio that one can just imagine how great they must sound in a live setting. In the meantime, find this album and let the music play. Play it loud!!

For more information, go to –– purchase the album by going to

Here's one of the great tracks:

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