Though not as rare as they once were, outfits led by drummer/composers are still a minority in jazz. Picking up that mantle, Pete Zimmer, the young drummer best known for his work with saxophonist George Garzone, defies the cliche that drummers' records are nothing more than chops-driven accompanied drum solos. His debut, Common Man, serves up a refreshing set of straight-ahead tunes, with an emphasis on feel-good swing, clean ensemble playing, and concise solos. Zimmer drives a classic quintet of like-minded players: tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, bassist John Sullivan, and alternating pianists Toru Dodo (seven tracks) and Rick Germanson (three).
The percolating syncopation of "Search sets up a flowing unison head, while the momentum carries each musician's solo statement, including the leader's effective flourishes that play off the dominant accents, to turn the groove inside out. On this tune and throughout the recording, the solos flow together without a collective restatement of theme. Frahm confidently strides during his slot in "Common Man, a buoyant swinging tune. His composition "A Whole New You is another sprightly piece with a tightly wound dual horn line that the ensemble twists with ease.
The group tests quieter, introspective dynamics on several numbers. Zimmer's subdued brushwork on "Road Taken colors the mournful melody provided by Rodriguez's trumpet and Sullivan's sensitive arco solo. "Time That Once Was similarly finds Zimmer using brushes to paint broad strokes across the bluesy ballad, a heartfelt remembrance for his late father. The lone standard, "Darn That Dream, is another tender ballad featuring delicate playing by Dodo.
With their dedication to established forms and use of vintage chord progressions, Zimmer's tunes elicit a vague but comforting familiarity. Steeped in tradition, though not merely a retread, this music is an auspicious first effort toward a positive future.
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.