Bill Mobley, Andrew Beals, Jeff Pittson, Mark Hagan, Jimmy Madison At The Old '76 House

David A. Orthmann By

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Bill Mobley, Andrew Beals, Jeff Pittson, Mark Hagan, Jimmy Madison
The Old 76 House
Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon
Tappan, NY
January 21, 2015

Jimmy Madison, the first of the band to arrive, wheeled his cymbal case in on a portable carrier and surveyed the array of drums, cymbals and stands before him. Spread out hither and yon and looking decidedly out of place in a formal dining room of tables with starched white table cloths and straight backed wooden chairs, it appeared as if the individual components had given their notice and decided to part company for good, but had yet to discover the escape routes. Accustomed to dealing with the vagaries of house drum sets, including a previous encounter or two with this one, Madison quickly went to work reining in the components and putting things in order. After carefully arranging each piece and hanging his cymbals, he commenced a painstaking tuning process, testing and tweaking each drum until it passed muster—with the exception of the bass drum which, he declared, sounded like a box. The opening set hasn't started, but Madison couldn't resist sampling the fruits of his labors, first repeatedly drumming his fingers on the snare in a manner that suggested something more than a warm up, and then making a number of brisk, articulate trips around the set with his brushes.

Once the preliminaries were over, Madison served as the lynchpin of an hour long, five selection set. In the second decade of the twentieth-first century, many—if not most—drummers are loud, busy, assertive to a fault, and preoccupied to the point where the bassist is largely responsible for holding music together. While Madison occasionally came close to possessing some of these qualities, what separated him from the pack was an ability to hear everything that was going on around him; make instant editorial decisions and respond to any stimuli his ears found interesting; create a deep, traditional pocket in conjunction with bassist Mark Hagan; and most importantly, orchestrate each selection by displaying a thorough knowledge of the material and provoke a variety of sounds from the borrowed drum kit.

Another one of the primary differences between Madison and less enlightened trapsters was a genuine willingness to share the music with the rest of the band. A minute or two into the opening selection, Benny Golson's "Stablemates," even while he seemed to have a hand in everything going on around him, the group started to cohere and everyone one was on the same page—an example of one of the essential aspects of a meaningful jazz performance. In part because of Madison's constantly evolving dynamic of assertiveness and cooperation, soloists didn't have to fight to be heard over the rhythm section, and it was easy to realize the acuity of the comping of pianist Jeff Pittson.

A surging, up tempo version of Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" was enriched by the deep hookup between Madison and Hagan, as well as drummer's ability to assert himself in ways that added additional jolts of adrenaline to the music—like rapidly moving between three cymbals without forsaking a ride-like momentum during Bill Mobley's solo; and inserting a knock out punch of an accent to the snare during a brief pause in the trumpeter's lines. Pittson's "Stablemates" improvisation benefited from the drummer's penchant for, dynamically speaking, building to a climax and then rapidly dropping down to a near whisper. After clever hi-hat sticking set-up Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama," Madison found exactly the right combination of hits to the drums to match key parts of the head. When Hagan played a bowed solo, Madison's sticks moved from the bell of the hi-hat to the body of the cymbal and back while executing a steady pattern of chattering rim knocks.

Madison's drumming wouldn't have meant as much without the presence of a band of accomplished soloists who maintained their own identities regardless of what he threw at them. Mobley stayed collected under varying degrees of pressure, as he executed solos in which everything had a purpose and a proper place. At the onset of his turn on "Bolivia," a series of crackling phrases gradually broke up and then spread out. During "Stablemates" alto saxophonist Andrew Beals responded to Madison's abrupt, two-stroke fill by launching a series of long, meticulously sculpted runs. Pittson's Latin interlude in the middle of "Bolivia" briefly turned manic before he resumed the execution of direct, hard swinging lines. During a brief solo on the standard "You Go To My Head," Hagan readily found his own melodies, strummed a few chords, and gave the impression of simultaneously moving around the beat and playing steady time.

The physicality of a fast shuffle on Wayne Shorter's "One By One" ended the set on euphoric terms. Mobley discovered an eloquent, somewhat self-contained space in the midst of the steady, dancing groove. Beals spoke in terse fragments and then executed long, rapid designs that fit hand in glove with the shuffle. Shortly after Madison's surprisingly light crashes on two cymbals, Pittson climaxed with revved up, two handed chords for good portion of a chorus. And on the out head Madison gleefully articulated Shorter's melody on the drums without forsaking the timekeeper's role.

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