Recorded on Beijing, Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China is the third of a trilogy, but includes changes from the original studio namesake. Guitarist Kevin McNeal is replaced by pianist Art Hirahara, giving the quartet a bit more punch. The first Blood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004) entry consisted almost entirely of original compositions, other than a snippet of Duke Ellington's "Caravan." This two-disc live set features covers by artists including Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie. What remains consistent through the entire trilogy is that drummer Hartigan's work is always an interesting historical investigation of ethnic musical influences as a means of expression.
Ethnicity aside, Live in China is the most straight-ahead jazz collection in the trilogy. Much of this due to Hirahara and saxophonist David Bindmaneach contributing a number of tracks and providing a strong presence throughout. At almost seventeen minutes, the set opens with Bindman's "Crisis in (Now's the) Time," which changes time signatures and styles, as well as featuring an extended solo from Hartigan. This is followed by a medley of "Flowing Stream/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," where a traditional Chinese song and Mingus' tribute to Lester Young both feel at home with each other, thanks to Hafez Modirzadeh's arrangement.
Hartigan's arrangement of Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," opening with a solo from bassist Wes Brown, is faster than the original, features elements of rumba and swing and solos from everyone in the group. The 21-minute "Dreamsfireswaking/Invitation" opens and closes with drum solos over a group vamp. Again, there are frequent changes in time and style, as the piece shifts from a relaxed pace to swing to West African and, once again, back to an Afro-Cuban rumba style. Hartigan and Bindman perform a duet before the saxophonist takes a solo and the group then rounds things out. It is the kind of complex setting at which this group excels.
As he has demonstrated in all of his recordings to date, Hartigan is a musical explorer not content to repeatedly cover familiar ground. Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China incorporates the sounds of South India on "Gati Shadows Within," Ghana on "Asante Adowa," and free improvisation on "Threads." It all works well due to the drummer's innate ability to cohesively arrange diverse musical attributes. Hartigan's depth of insight adds to the understanding of worldwide musical relations. The performers are excellent, the music creative, and the experience top tier.
Personnel: David Bindman: tenor saxophone; Wes Brown: bass; Art Hirahara: piano; Royal Hartigan: drums.