Common Man is a crafty collection of mostly originals by drummer and session leader Pete Zimmer, strictly within a Fifties bop idiom with strokes of modal playing. This is a record made by mainstream sidemen who love to blow, pure and simple.
Zimmer and his pals obviously can play, and they have a nose for patching together well-constructed tunes with memorable themes. The main reason, though, why they all sound so well constructed and memorable is more because they are directly derived from the big hits of bop, rather than thoroughly worked out ideas that flourish in a universe of their own.
Playing this record invites a whole Jeopardy category called "Been Bop": "Search" revamps "Caravan," the title tune "Common Man" and "5AM Blues" wouldn't exist without Kind of Blue , the theme of "A Whole New You" throws two hands full of Parker-riffs in the blender, and so on. It comes as quite a surprise when the opening bars of "Darn that Dream" actually segue into that very same tuneperformed straight out of the The New Real Book, with only a few chord substitutions of the most basic nature.
That the references are so multitudinousand obviously intentionalis of course not necessarily a problem. As a CD to sell at live dates, or as a demonstration to the outside world of the scope and craftiness of the leader's playing, it is a well-rounded product that has all the essential ingredients for these purposes: the tunes are well-rehearsed, sport well-chosen tempos and different moods, display a level and character of swing that varies from tune to tune, and supply neat and tidy solos by all, with Joel Frahm's as the most eloquent.
But if you play this CD for reasons other than being reminded of a fun gig, you might feel yourself aching for something as simple as a change in dynamics within a song, a subtle floating of a tempo: something which shows some depth of interpretation. As heartwarming the enthusiasm is, and as well-rounded the instrumental prowess, in the end it doesn't stretch very far beyond successfully blowing over same-ole, same-ole changes. Altogether Common Man is not unlike a high-level final exam project.
There is considerable talent here. But if Pete Zimmer intends to build an oeuvre on CD designed to stand the test of time, then for the next project he might want to raise the bar considerably. A deepening of the powers of interpretation in combination with a quest for a compositorial context outside of mainstream-as-written-in-stone, is definitely in order. After all, traditional bop in this day and age might be too small and inward-looking a world to eternally circle around in.
Search; Road Taken; Common Man; A Whole New You; Time That Once Was; 5 A.M. Blues;
Hustlin'; Daytona; Darn That Dream; Common Man (alt.).
Pete Zimmer: drums; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone; Toru
Dodo: piano; Rick Germanson: piano; John Sullivan: bass.
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