I needn’t tell you what a great drummer Ed Thigpen is; others more eloquent than I have done so on many occasions, and your own ears can validate their appraisal simply by listening to the master at work, as he is on The Element of Swing, recorded in concert by Thigpen’s excellent trio, Rhythm Features, with guest Joe Lovano, one of America’s most honored contemporary saxophonists. Unlike some drummers who shall be nameless, Thigpen doesn’t equate volume with proficiency; “understated” (or “tasteful”) could be his middle name. But few drummers swing harder or more consistently than the seventy–year–old wizard who’s been living and thriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the past three decades. He welcomes a kindred soul in Lovano who, like Thigpen, is carrying forward a family tradition. Ed’s father, Ben, was a drummer; Joe’s father, Tony, a saxophonist. Like any good host, Thigpen makes his guest feel right at home, and Lovano seems more an integral part of the trio than an appendage grafted on for “name appeal.” In other words, he makes Rhythm Features a quartet, one that sounds as if it had been working together for a long time. That’s because Thigpen and his partners — pianist Carsten Dahl, bassist Jesper Bodilsen — not only play, they also listen. Closely. Wherever Lovano wanders — and he does prowl some out–of–the–way paths, as on Bodilsen’s “Hello Joe” and his own “Impressionistic” — they’re right beside him, anticipating his every departure and going along for the ride. Lovano shows his mettle as composer with the lyrical “Emperor Jones,” as does Thigpen with “Sweet Mama,” “ETP” and “Like Blues.” Completing the program are Coltrane’s bustling “Lonnie’s Lament,” Strayhorn’s memorable “Chelsea Bridge” (which brings out the Ben Webster in Lovano) and Dahl’s dashing closer, “Street Freak.” Lovano plays clarinet on “Impressionistic,” tenor the rest of the way. He and Dahl (a consistently resourceful improviser who’s one of Thigpen’s former students, a drummer before he switched to piano) share much of the solo space with Thigpen adding discursive statements only on “Sweet Mama” and “Freak,” Bodilsen on “Like Blues.” The audience at Copenhagen’s Jazz House loved the concert, and so should you.
Contact: Stunt Records, 29 W. Maple Avenue, Bellmawr, NJ 08031 (phone 856–931–6441; fax 856–931–6445. www.sundance.dk
Track Listing: Sweet Mama; ETP; Hello Joe; Emperor Jones; Lonnie’s Lament; Chelsea Bridge; Impressionistic; Like Blues; Street Freak (63:22).
Personnel: Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Carsten Dahl, piano; Jesper Bodilsen, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums.