Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan (2012)
Devin Gray is only 28 years old but, in his case, age does not mean much. Already, in his debut as a leader, this Brooklyn-based drummer proves himself a mature and resourceful composer and promising band leader, one who can lead any outfit with the energy and colors produced from his drum set, as the Latin-French title of this album suggests. And he knows to how to enlist perfect collaborators to realize his musical visionmasterful, experienced leaders in their own rights: tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou and bassist Michael Formanek.
From the opening "Quadraphonically," this quartet works as an organic unit, where the shifting roles of all four musicians create a bigger whole. Gray is a natural drummer, with a distinct, imaginative musical languagerhythmic, colorful and intelligent, yet melodic and accessible. Formanek expands Gray's rhythmic palette and roots it down with his impeccable sense of time. Ballou adds a beautiful, lyrical sound and Eskelin takes the music anywhere he wants.
Gray's compositions vary in their spirit but all are open to improvisation. "Down Time" ebbs and flows naturally through gentle shifts in its funky rhythmic pattern, leaves enough room for Eskelin to soar over the hypnotic polyrhythms. The homage to modernist composer Charles Ives, "Prospect Park After Dark," is serene and contemplative, featuring Gray's impressive and delicate mallet solo of Gray. On "Talking with Hands," Gray energetically dictates the intensity of Eskelin and Ballou's flights, while "Otaku" is an evasive and restless improvisation without any attempt to sketch a clear structure. The contemplative and reserved dedication to drummer Gerald Cleaver (Gray's mentor) on "Thickets," emphasizes the group's emphatic and telepathic interplay through minimal sonic articulations. The closing "Katahdin" is an infectious, joyful melody, manifested patiently by Eskelin and Ballou, both pushed by the driving pulse set by Gray and Formanek.
A highly creative document by a rare and gifted musician.
Track Listing: Quadraphonically (Birds from mars may sing like this/In groups of four); Cancel the Cancel (How about this/Or this Now this/Yes No YES); Down Time (Down Time happens/Gold is rare and fruit takes time to grow/ Use it wisely); Prospect Park in the Dark (For Charles Ives) (Walk into the park/You’ll find something/Leave feeling better); Talking with Hands (More and more people are using their hands to communicate/Musicians have been doing this forever); Otaku (Two foot spontaneous improvisation yields naturalized rhythms/Japanese may use this word around you); Thickets (For Gerald Cleaver) (If lost in a thicket don’t forget your ticket/You may feel lonely or a little); Katahdin (The ups and downs of climbing a mountain/Its all we've got/ Climb it).
Personnel: Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Michael Formanek: bass; Devin Gray: drums.