Drummers, more than any other instrumentalists, have this thing about flaunting their technical command, often times at the expense of the music in general. Not so as of late, however. Undoubtedly ushered in by the prototypical small band writing and drumming of Tony Williams during the '80s, we've recently seen a wonderful spate of recording activity among drummers who are leaders of their own groups and who have a knack for making intelligent and substantial music, far removed from mere pyrotechnic displays of chops. One need look no further than Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Victor Lewis, and Bill Stewart to find not only some well-endowed drummers, but to also discover some distinguished leaders.
Philadelphia native Tom Cohen, while not as well-known as the previously mentioned fellows, has assembled an extremely artistic collection of music that presents his talents as a drummer and leader in a flattering light. Cohen also keeps adept company as heard by the work of bassist Peter Herbert and pianist Peter Madsen. The latter, in particular, creates dazzling waves of energy that engulf the listener. A breakneck jaunt through "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" barely even hints at the melody until the conclusion, replaced by one devastating chorus after another from Madsen. Clearly, his presence on the date was an inspiration to all involved. Even Chris Potter, who sits in on a few cuts and has a tendency to be too cool and calculated at times, wallops and wails to great effect.
Like a well-paced set in a club, a recording should have an ebb and flow that catches and keeps the listener's attention and changes moods throughout. Without being too esoteric, Cohen manages to keep things interesting and Madsen is again an asset in terms of the five originals he contributes. "Chagall," a dainty waltz, has almost an ECM feel to it, with Potter waxing rhapsodic on soprano. "The Cat" and "Truth is Stranger Than Fiction" offer advanced hard bop with numerous harmonic twists and turns, while "Desert Flower" and "Not Even a Hat" rank with some of Wayne Shorter's finest ballads.
A success for everyone involved, but particularly Madsen and Cohen, Diggin' In, Digging Out is a very engaging listen that could end up being one of the major sleepers of the year. And that's saying quite a lot.