Drori Mondlak brings a lot to the table as a drummer/leader. Born to a Polish father and English mother in Mexico City, his family soon moved to London and then New York, where he's remained. Along with this natural assimilation of cultures and rhythms came an infatuation with the drums when he switched over from piano as a teenager, leading to his current enthusiasms, not only for the kit's many colors, timbres and tunings, but its possiblilites for orchestrating melodies
as well. Key in his percussive development is a passion for the musical drumming of Joe Morello - so intense that he sought him out as a teacher after
completing music school. His resume includes stints with Danny Mixon, Joe Williams, Frank Foster and some great guitarists like Vic Juris and Dave Stryker.
His partners in this project define it: altoist and flautist Karolina Strassmayer , bassist Paul Ramsey and the extraordinary six-string genius of Cary DeNigris . All of these players have, not coincidentally, done time in the band of one of the music's grand masters, Chico Hamilton. DeNigris especially, brings an array of accompanist's and improvisor's gifts to the session. More of a fusionist on his own project (which also includes Ramsey and Mondlak), he's an expert and unique comper that also sports one of jazz guitar's most formidable legato techniques short of Allan Holdsworth. Here, the setting is kinder and gentler contemporary jazz - astute and refined.
The name Straight Circle is meant to emphasize the players speaking straight to the essence of each other, thereby creating a conversational, improvisational circle. It's also a fairly straight -ahead setting. While Mondlak is a chops-laden and sensitive drummer, his brand of athleticism is defined by how lightly he gets what he wants out of the kit, making his drums dance not unlike Morello. Don't get me wrong - Drori's got plenty of octane - it's just that he's an efficient, high horsepower engine pulling along an elegant coupe.
While the small-group aesthetic conveyed by the title is usually apparent, the players aren't bashful about throwing in zest, like DeNigris' combustible tag at the end of Monk's "Evidence" or the distorted bite on his reticulated, blues-laced lines for the title cut. Strassmayer skirts some over- blowing around her super-sweet tone and refined solo ideas on a deservedly long statement on Brubeck's (and Morello's) "In Your Own Sweet Way." Make sure to dig into Ramsey's rapid pizzicato technique as a foil to Drori under this tune's driving, swinging solo sections. On his solo, DeNigris emphasizes a unique clawhammer-like technique on the right hand, which effectuates spinning out rapid-fire arpeggiations of triplet phrases, rising and falling against the rhythm section, before Mondlak's finest solo statement of the set.
When these guys decide to do pretty, they stay very focused, as on the gorgeous ballads "Blackberry Winter," Strassmayer's "Forget Strollin'" and Mondlak's "Maya's Lullabye." Rarely do guitarists go so hyperspeed, yet stay so lyrical as DeNigris does on "Blackberry." This all sets up so nicely against Strassmeyer's lush tone and Ramsey's electric, but very acoustic-sounding lines.
This is yet another exemplary piece of independently released jazz being made today.
Available from Drori Mondlak on the web.
Personnel: Drori Mondlak-drums, Cary DeNigris-guitar, Paul Ramsey- bass, Karolina Strassmayer-