Chris Massey & The NJP: Whosoever (2013)
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Drummer Chris Massey's debutVibrainium (Self Produced, 2011)was an Art Blakey-influenced quintet date that put a modern slant on the hard bop tradition; this follow-up follows the same guidelines, but puts a greater emphasis on the modern.
Massey tips his cap to those who came before him by including an always-in-style standard ("Old Devil Moon"), a high energy original ("Whosoever") that balances Blakey-esque ideals with McCoy Tyner-ish tendencies, and choice covers from past masters like saxophonists John Coltrane ("Giant Steps") and Rahsaan Roland Kirk ("Pedal Up"), but he doesn't dwell on the old; Whosoever is more of a modernistic manifesto than a trip down memory lane. "Giant Steps," for example, gets a new lease on life, as it sprints along in seven, and Massey pounds away in Tony Williams-meets-Eric Harland fashion as "Pedal Up" takes flight; even "Old Devil Moon" has a little kick to it.
The other half of this eight song program is no less absorbing, as Massey makes his mark through different means. He dips his pen into firm-and-fiery ink ("Onyx Guard"), delivers an understated waltz with mournful undertones ("Warriors Three"), and pays tribute to two of today's biggest drumming names; he tackles the feisty music of Jeff "Tain" Watts ("Return Of The Jitney Man") and enters the spiritual realm of the Brian Blade Fellowship, via the work of that group's underrated pianistJon Cowherd. Watts' influence is far more pronounced in Massey's playing than that of Blade, but both drummers have clearly made an impact here.
While Vibrainium and Whosoever both rely on a line-up that puts saxophone and trumpet out in front of a standard, three-man rhythm section, the personnel listing from one album to the other is completely different. Trumpeter Benny Benack III takes the place of Donald Molloy, adding a bit more power and bite to the mix, and saxophonist Adam Larson now occupies the chair previously held by Benjamin Drazen; while Drazen's main ax is alto, and Larson's is tenor, both men leave more of a lasting impression on these albums with their soprano work. Massey's new rhythm section matesbassist Chris Talio and pianist Willerm Delisfortprovide firm assistance at every turn, whether delivering insistent ideas or laid back support.
Many a young artist feels the need to reinvent themselves with each album, but Massey isn't trying to find himself or live a chameleon's life; this young drummer knows just who he is and he proudly displays his artistic identity for all to hear on Whosoever.
Track Listing: Whosoever; Crooked Creek; Giant Steps; Old Devil Moon; Warriors Three; Return Of The Jitney Man; Onyx Guardian; Pedal Up.
Personnel: Adam Larson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Benny Benack III: trumpet; Willerm Delisfort: piano; Chris Talio: bass; Chris Massey: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Modern Jazz