Cecil's Jazz Club
West Orange, NJ
August 17, 2007
Two drum kits were set up at the front of the stage prior to the CB III Band's first set at Cecil's Jazz Club. Though the configuration was in keeping with an evening billed as "The Father, Son, and Holy Groove, featuring two generations of the Brooks family of jazz drummers, the figure of Max Roach cast a long shadow on the proceedings. Roach, whose virtuosic, interactive style of drumming invigorated jazz icons ranging from Charlie Parker to Clifford Brown to Cecil Taylor, had died on the previous day. The insistent, hard-hitting approach of Cecil Brooks III, the club's proprietor, wouldn't have been possible without Roach's towering achievements.
The first forty-five minutes of the performance moved along without pause. In large measure the band exhibited the trappings of soul-jazz, with audience-friendly material (an unnamed blues, Bobby Hebb's 1966 hit "Sunny, the Carpenters' 1970 smash "Close To You, Norah Jones's recent blockbuster "Don't Know Why, and an up tempo Charles Earland line), palpable grooves, and an abundance of blues and R & B licks. However, Brooks's ferocious drumming, guitarist Matt Chertkoff's and Hammond B-3 organist Kyle Kohler's willingness to stand up to the barrage, and the remarkably fluid exchange of ideas among them, disclosed a spirit of adventure seldom seen in other practitioners of the B-3 trio genre.
Two previous weekends at the club made the trio into a genuinely cohesive unit. Dynamics ranged from a whisper (at one point I feared the band could hear the rustling of the pages of my notebook) to an earsplitting roar. Every selection included at least a couple of sustained climaxes. The sheer force of Brooks's drumming was calculated, his practiced sticking never lapsed into mindless flailing. He was equally adept at latching onto one of Chertkoff's or Kohler's phrases, creating a more intense groove by adding complicated rhythms, or willfully pushing the music in another direction by dint of slamming hits to the snare and bass drum.
Brooks's solo on "Sunny began with an uncanny imitation of the tune's melody. He briefly traveled around the drums only to return to the basic patterns. Another whole sequence was executed entirely on the cymbals, again capturing the essence of the song. After tamping the low tom-tom with one stick and striking the drum with the other, he cut loose, at first moving around the set in a flurry of rapid strokes before becoming downright brutal.
Chertkoff and Kohler revealed a flair for building solos that were both soulful and deceptively complex. Undaunted by Brooks's hard, repetitive snare and bass drum combinations during "Don't Know Why, Chertkoff spit the figure right back at him and then rapidly moved on and developed a four-note phrase. After briefly yielding to the leader's dazzling variety of snare drum beats, Kohler's song-like lines on "Close To You morphed into a number of intriguing fragments, before reaching a climax via a series of bluesy chords.
Brooks introduced his father, Cecil Brooks II, as "the man who taught me how to play, and then left the stage. The reconstituted trio tackled "Shiny Stockings at a middling tempo, Brooks II displaying a sharp, tight sound on the drum set, and his accents perfectly complementing Frank Foster's tune originally conceived for Basie's big band. Throughout Chertkoff and Kohler's solos, he comped judiciously and then served up subtle figures from the snare drum for his four-bar trades with Kohler.
Upon Brooks III's return to the bandstand, the percussion-heavy band turned Sonny Rollins's calypso anthem "St Thomas into a gleeful stomp, Chertkoff's nimble lines constituting his best work of the set. In a big, crowd-pleasing finish, father and son battled to a draw, and made the floor shake throughout an extended series of eight-bar exchanges.
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