Best known for extended stays in the bands of Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, and Oscar Peterson during the 50s and 60s, Louis Hayes’ recent recordings serve as a reminder that he’s still one of the hardest swinging drummers in modern jazz. Throughout compact discs released between 1996 and 2002 for the Sharp Nine, TCB, Criss Cross, and Venus labels, Hayes displays an impressive range of expression inside the exacting requirements of the bop and hard bop idioms. Although he often plays gracefully, there’s a ruthless efficiency to most of his work, which demands attention and drives bands in a manner that sounds both emphatic and flexible.
The sonority of Hayes’ drums and cymbals, as well as his sticking and footwork technique, are equal in importance to the actual rhythms he plays. His drums sound large and weighty, but each stroke dies quickly, therefore coming across as nimble rather than unyielding or bloated. Hayes produces an impressive array of tones from his ride, crash, and hi-hat cymbals. In particular, variations of the metallic ping of the ride cymbal can usually be heard clearly during long stretches of time keeping, when he’s also actively working the snare, tom-toms, and bass drum. His execution on every single component of the set is clean and well defined. The same can be said for the ways in which he expresses ideas. There’s a purpose and clear sense of direction to everything he plays that complements a consistently high level of intensity. Even when Hayes performs highly complex patterns, or challenges a soloist, he seldom gives the impression of thrashing something just for the hell of it.
The first chorus of David Hazeltine’s solo on a slow-to-medium tempo version of “You Make Me Feel So Young” (David Hazeltine, The Classic Trio, Sharp Nine), exemplifies Hayes’ ability to add color and grit to a laid-back setting. For the most part he plays under Hazeltine’s piano and the bass line of Peter Washington. Amidst a steady ride cymbal rhythm and well-placed accents to the snare, Hayes deftly integrates figures that make an impression without upending the music. A series of discreet quarter note triplets skip against the beat and end with a light cymbal crash in unison with the bass drum. Partially closed hi-hat cymbals are crashed (again lightly) and ring until Hayes pushes the pedal and cuts it off. A combination of rim knocks and single strokes to the mounted tom-tom at a low volume creates a bit of friction then evaporates. Struck hard and in quick succession, hits to the floor tom-tom and snare are the closest Hayes gets to actually disrupting the flow.
Ranging from barely audible taps on a tom-tom, to the clanging bell of a cymbal, to convulsive bass drum blows, Hayes’ mercurial drumming plays a very active role in shaping “Decision” (Louis Hayes, Quintessential Lou, TCB). Aside from eight relatively uneventful bars at the beginning of Riley Mullins’ solo, he constantly goads the trumpeter, putting together peculiar combinations of rhythms that swing mightily and make sense despite their unevenness. In one dramatic episode, the drummer immediately responds to a long blast from Mullins by intimating a shuffle, then executing eight consecutive, on-the-beat hits to the snare, followed by a punchy, irregular cadence played between four drums and a crash cymbal. The whole thing lasts only four measures, yet it has a galvanizing effect on the music even after Hayes backs off.
Typical of his up-tempo playing, there’s an obsessive, driven quality to Hayes’ rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love” (Louis Hayes, Dreamin’ of Cannonball, TCB). During an alto saxophone solo by Vincent Herring (a fine sparring partner who never wilts under the drummer’s pressure), he forsakes the usual variety of textures in favor of a hammer-and-tongs approach to the instrument. Relying on bassist Vincent Archer’s persistent walking, Hayes begins with brief, cutting snare and bass combinations, broken up by a slippery one bar fill between the snare and lower tom-tom that comes out of nowhere. For a brief period of time his ride cymbal takes the lead, then Hayes moves back and forth between the top tom-tom and snare, creating rapid, Morse code cadences. He responds to Herring’s blues locution by spreading out strokes to the snare, one for approximately every three beats, in effect tripping up the music even as the cymbal catapults it forward. Another explosive fill, consisting of terse, repetitive phrases each ending with the bass, suggests this drum’s ensuing prominence, when the low-pitched blows sound as if they are busting out of an enclosed, oppressive space.