A recent review of Bill Frisell's new CD, Unspeakable , compared artists who transcend definition and those who work at honing their skill in a more narrowly defined context. Drummer Pete Zimmer falls into the latter category, with a writing style and group approach that leans heavily on precedents set by other drummer-led bands headed by Art Blakey, Max Roach and Roy Haynes, but also by artists including Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver. He unquestionably looks to expand upon the '60s Blue Note sound, but does so with honesty and authority. Consequently his début record, Common Man , which could have just been a tired retread of what has come before, is a vibrant album that showcases some fine young talents playing music that may not have any sharp edges, but is engrossing and enjoyable from start to finish.
Tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, known for his work with singer Jane Monheit as well as the three Palmetto recordings under his own belt (including his recent album of duets with pianist Brad Mehldau, Don't Explain ), is the most recognizable name of the set. For a player who appeared on the scene roughly seven years ago, he has a similar conception to Chris Potter, with an imposing sound and ability to compose meaningful solos, even in the short durations he is allowed on this recording. Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez has a warm mid-range sound that recalls Lee Morgan and, to a lesser extent, Woody Shaw.
Unlike some drummer-led ensembles, however, Zimmer doesn't force his dominance in the group, opting instead for a more collective sound. While new to the New York scene, his unfailing sense of groove and light yet imaginative swing are establishing him as one to watch. But this session is as much a showcase for his skills as a composer as it is a vehicle for his fine playing. "Search" explores Afro-Cuban territory, while "Road Taken" is a dreamy waltz with an intriguing melody that, like all his compositions, is eminently singable yet harmonically deceptivesimple sounding, but on further inspection, revealing of a richer foundation, also featuring a delicate arco solo from bassist John Sullivan. The title track, found in two versions, one with pianist Toru Dodo, the other with alternating pianist Rick Germanson, comes straight from the Jazz Messengers school; both versions swing nicely and feature relaxed solos from Frahm and Rodriguez, with Zimmer connecting more than once with their thematic constructs.
There's something to be said for music that is unassuming and appealing on a purely instinctive basis. Common Man covers familiar territory and develops no new concepts. Still, its intelligent, accessible and engaging approach as a known entity serves as a solid introduction to a number of players from whom more will no doubt be heard from in the future.
Track Listing: Search; Road Taken; Common Man; A Whole New You; Time That Once Was; 5 A.M. Blues; Hustlin; Daytona; Darn That Dream; Common Man (alt. take)
Personnel: Pete Zimmer (drums), Michael Rodriguez (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone), Rick Germanson (piano on "Common Man," "5 A.M. Blues," "Daytona"), Toru Dodo (piano on all other tracks), John Sullivan (bass)