Ben Riley: Grown Folks Music (2012)
Ben Riley is best-described as a drummer who has always been the epitome of great taste, elegance and almost certainly possessed of a higher musical intelligence. There is no better recommendation for this than the fact that Thelonious Monk hired him as a drummer, but if further proof were requested , then all that needs doing would be to spin Grown Folks Music, this eloquently bluesy albeit seemingly short session with a rising star on the saxophone, Wayne Escoffery. The album also pays a not-so-oblique tribute to Riley's old boss, Monk, not just because Riley has included two Monk compositions and a standard the great pianist used to play, but for all the right reasons the drummer and Escoffery conjuredespite the absence of a pianistnot just the spirit, but also the late pianist's spectacularly rarified language. This, of course, has everything to do with the pairing of the drummer and the saxophonist.
Ben Riley is one of the great musicians among the drummers of today. This, in addition to the fact that he has one of the keenest senses of shade and hue, which also makes him a skilled percussion colorist. He can play phrases on his skins just as well as a pianist, bassist or any other musician, and this he does throughout the session. Many times his phrases and sentences sound as if they were taken out of a Monk songbook. This may not be so accidental, especially as there are Monk songs here. However, it is also true that many of the phrases although completely fresh and newsound as though they would fit right into the vocabulary of a Monk performance. Moreover, the presence of the fat and breathy bellow of Escoffery's earthy tenor is also reminiscent of the broad and glorious roar of Charlie Rouse. In all fairness, though, Escoffery's is a singular voice. He may have listened to Rouse, and the guiding hand of other masters of the instrument such as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins may be lurking in the shadows, but Escoffery is very much his own man. His ideas are his and his alone, executed with great depth of and passionate character. He often begins phrases inside out or from the end, going backwards, and this makes for a sense of surprise that is always delightful, and makes the combination of saxophonist and drummer quite memorable. But there is more...
The album has no pianist, but the rhythmic honors that would have been shared by the keyboard are split between two fascinating guitarists. Both Freddy Bryant and Avi Rothbard are spectacular, to say the least. They bring newness to the repertoire that complements the elegance of the music and suggests that the absence of the piano is no big deal at all. And the deep growl of Ray Drummond's bass is the glue that holds the rhythm section together on this all-too-unforgettable set.
Track Listing: Friday the 13th; Laura; Teo; Without a Song; A Weaver of Dreams; Lulu’s Back in Town; If Ever I Would Leave Without You.
Personnel: Ben Riley: drums; Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone; Avi Rothbard: guitar (1, 4, 5, 7); Freddie Bryant: guitar (2, 3, 6); Ray Drummond: bass.