Abbey Rader in the Spotlight: Ritual and Phenobarbital Sessions

Kevin Press By

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His ability to continue playing at this level is–if nothing else–proof positive that we need to radically rethink what it means to be a senior citizen.
There are no springs in Coral Springs, Florida. What the Broward County city does have is a remarkable ability to adapt. Two of its most popular landmarks, The Coral Springs Center for the Arts and The Museum of Coral Springs History, were originally designed as a gymnasium and real estate office respectively. Despite its surprising lack of groundwater, this planned community northwest of Fort Lauderdale is nothing if not creative.

Perhaps that's got something to do with free jazz legend Abbey Rader's decision to settle in there. He certainly didn't move south to retire.

The just turned 74-year-old master drummer has two new discs out: Ritual, with Kyle Motl on double bass and Drew Ceccato on tenor saxophone and Phenobarbital Sessions, an improv film score recorded with John McMinn on piano and both alto and soprano saxophone.

Abbey Rader
ABRAY Productions

Ritual features virtuoso performances all around. Rader sets the pace with the no-holds-barred freneticism he is so admired for. His ability to continue playing at this level is—if nothing else—proof positive that we need to radically rethink what it means to be a senior citizen.

Front and centre in the mix is Drew Ceccato, an accomplished young free jazz and electronic music player. Besides Rader, Ceccato has performed with world-class artists like Roscoe Mitchell and Fred Frith. His contribution to Ritual launches one minute into its opener "Circles Drawn." It could well have been called Guns Drawn given the force of his horn. Ceccato is a major talent we are going to hear a lot from in the years ahead.

Bassist Motl deserves mention too. His intricate performance is not the first thing that will strike you about this wonderful new album. But it's worth your attention. He plays with supreme confidence, matching the band's leader every step of the way.

Abbey Rader and John McMinn
Phenobarbital Sessions
ABRAY Productions

As befits a film score, Phenobarbital Sessions is a spacious, but no less energetic effort. Film director Jorge Rubiera had completed a documentary about Rader, and says he was anxious to find another way to work with his friend. Phenobarbital is a short drama that Rubiera says is "about downward spirals, tension and crisis."

Improvised live, with no editing, there isn't a single disappointment among these 16 tracks. It's clear the two- piece format suits Rader and McMinn beautifully. They've worked together as part of a larger band, recently as a quartet on this year's Reunion disc. But hearing the two of them together is an absolute blast.

Free jazz is often described in terms of improvisation and a healthy sense of experimentation. Both are at work here, but there's more. Hearing Rader and McMinn together, so entirely in synch, you will marvel at their ability to follow one another's lead. No matter the original design, the duo will take you somewhere unexpected.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Circles Drawn; Ritual; Interiority; Conjurations; Circles Broken.

Personnel: Abbey Rader: drums, percussion; Kyle Motl: double bass; Drew Ceccato: tenor sax.

Phenobarbital Sessions

Tracks: Envelope; Puzzle; Accident; Pecan Trees; Argument; Asleep at the Wheel; Wandering; Confrontation; Socked in the Jaw; Out of Breath; Evening News; Strangulation; Return; Premeditated; Tippi's Notebook; Payphone.

Personnel: Abbey Rader: drums, gongs, percussion; John McMinn: alto & soprano sax, piano.

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