Despite a lengthy (though low profile) career in jazz, this recording marks the first time 52 years young bassist Ray Drummond has recorded as leader of a quartet. 1-2-3-4
is his fourth recording for Arabesque and as such exemplifies the label’s continued documentation of Drummond’s honest, unpretentious musical style. This style is best understood by considering that Drummond is possessed of a deeply personal commitment to remain consistent within jazz legacy while simultaneously striving to move the music forward.
To realize this vision, Drummond has assembled an extraordinarily sympathetic band consisting of long time ally Billy Hart (drums), Craig Handy (saxophones), and Stephen Scott (piano). It may be cliché to say so, but this is one well-balanced outfit. The playing is persistently selfless, intelligent, and disciplined without being rigid or staid. Drummond’s arrangements are sparse and uncluttered, leaving room for himself and his partners to roam gracefully. This is not to say that the music is simplistic however. It simply refrains from gratuitous ornamentation. Neither is it to say that the music is meek or listless. On the contrary, it is imbued with passion.
1-2-3-4 consists of 12 tunes, including 5 Drummond originals. The remainder are drawn from amongst classic tunes, e.g., Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria” and “Nefertiti” (a long time Drummond favorite), peer Ron Carter’s “Little Waltz”, Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”.
But despite this wealth of traditional material, as the liner notes attest, the “common pattern of head-solo-head-and-out does not dominate.” (Jon W. Poses) Furthermore, not every tune is configured for the entire quartet. Drummond performs “Prelude to a Kiss” without accompaniment. “Mr. P.C.” is performed admirably and unconventionally as a duet between Drummond and Hart. Interestingly, this duet scenario doesn’t unfold as a sparring match between instrumentalists, but more as a playful dance. Drummond states that with 1-2-3-4 he didn’t want to make just another quartet record. In that respect, 1-2-3-4 is successful.
To conclude, 1-2-3-4 was created, performed, and recorded by a singularly intuitive group of musicians under the guidance of a legitimate mainstay in the modern jazz tradition. An in-depth critical analysis of 1-2-3-4 is unnecessary; it should simply be listened to and enjoyed. After a respectable career, there shouldn’t be much left for Ray Drummond to prove. The fact that Drummond has gone largely ignored is not only unjust but also inexplicable. Hopefully. 1-2-3-4 will go a long way to rectify this situation.