Ari Hoenig: Bert's Playground (2008)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The varied contexts in which drummers play make their own sessions as leaders either spottily uneven or dynamically diverse. For Bert's Playground, drummer Ari Hoenig has gathered a troop of six musicians that includes two bassists, guitarists and saxophonists that he mixes and matches to illuminate the fun to be had.
After receiving a gentle push from Hoenig and bassist Matt Penman, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter swing hard on Trane's "Moment's Notice." Guitarist Gilad Hekselman and bassist Orlando Fleming transform Jerome Kern's beautiful "The Way You Look Tonight" into a sandbox for boppy guitar explorations. Kreisberg, layering acoustic and electric guitars, elegantly combines with altoist Will Vinson for "Seraphic"'s subtle spin. This is followed by Hoenig and Penman leading the way up the intricate jungle-gym bars of "Ramilson's Brew."
Hoenig eerily conjures up a drum solo version of "Round Midnight" then joins Kreisberg and Fleming for a reinterpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Fall." The title cut is an apt potpourri of post-bop rhythmical playscapes. "For Tracy" again has Hoenig and Kreisberg combining for a gorgeous and leisurely slide. "Green Spleen" is a deliciously funky and wild tenor/guitar seesaw. And Gershwin's "Embraceable You," delicately interpreted by Hekselman's guitar, is a tender reminder that it is time to call it a day. A major aspect of what holds this session together is Hoenig's understated style. He leads not with bravado but with a wonderfully exquisite touch, allowing his band mates to cavort.
Track Listing: Moments Notice; The Way You Look Tonight; Seraphic; Ramilson's Brew; Round Midnight; Fall; Bert's Playground; For Tracy; Green Spleen; Embraceable You.
Personnel: Ari Hoenig: drums; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone (1, 4, 9); Will Vinson: alto saxophone (3, 7); Jonathan Kreisberg: guitar (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9); Gilad Hekselman: guitar (2, 10); Matt Penman: bass (1, 3, 4, 7, 9); Orlando LeFleming: bass (2, 6, 8, 10).
Record Label: Dreyfus Records