Question: when is a pianist-led recording also a drummer's record? That query, as it relates to pianist Marc Riordan's Binoculars
, is not poised as a Zen koan, because there is an answer.
The correct response: when the pianist is a drummer.
Riordan, an up-and-coming percussionist in the Chicago music scene, can be heard in bands led by bassist Jason Ajemian
, saxophonist Aram Shelton
and cornetist Josh Berman
, and the prog/punk band Wishgift. In the improvising unit Tres Hongos, with trumpeter Jacob Wick and drummer Frank Rosaly
, he plays piano, as he does here.
Riordan's quartet includes fellow Chicagoan, drummer Tim Daisy
, alto saxophonist Peter Hanson, and bassist Daniel Thatcher. Like drummer Jack DeJohnette
before him, Riordan is a fine pianist. Binoculars
is made up of seven original tunes, all reflecting an unmistakably percussive attack not unlike that of pianist Thelonious Monk
As a composer he excels at making seemingly complex music from very similar melodies, not unlike Monk or fellow pianists Elmo Hope
and Herbie Nichols
. On "Funometer," the band states and reworks Riordan's theme, the pianist poking and prodding the melody as Daisy dials up the heat and intensity, forcing Hanson to wriggle and twitch to the point of meltdown, eventually returning to the theme. That pattern is repeated throughout on "Magnetic Personality" and "On The 6th." Riordan's straightforward pieces implore his quartet to deconstruct, refurbish and, eventually, reconstruct the melody.
The slower-paced "Lesson Learned" channels Monk's "Monks Mood" and gently swings the pianist's conceptions. Maybe it's because this is a drummer's piano record that Daisy's drum kit is mixed forward in the sound, highlighting the percussive nature of the music, focusing Riordan's intensions.
The lone cover is a bit of the obscure. Monk's "A Merrier Christmas" fits nicely into this outing because it's congruous with Riordon's approach. Played with a melancholy tinge, the quartet stammers across the melody with gorgeous, Monk-like pronunciation.