The primary strength ofExcursions
, a date co-led by tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall and drummer Bob Leto, is the contrast between Kendall’s style and the record’s other primary soloist, pianist Kenny Drew Jr. A thoughtful, deliberate player with bebop roots and hints of Shorter and Coltrane in his approach, Kendall makes a visceral impact without getting showy. In contrast, Drew is a dramatic soloist whose influences encompass the entire scope of modern jazz piano, with a prodigious technique that he frequently uses to create flamboyant statements. Bassist John Ray, a longtime associate of the two leaders on the Long Island jazz scene, assiduously holds the band together, and contributes some interesting solos of his own. Leto’s drums play a major role in the success of the recording because he invariably finds interesting ways to stimulate Kendall and Drew, especially in his dynamic exchanges with the pianist.
The title track is a Kendall composition that revolves around a repetitive, honking, two-note phrase, leaving plenty of space for Leto to roam around his kit and kick up a storm. The tenor saxophonist plays with a broad, nasal tone, brusquely pushing his way ahead and making brief forays into the upper and lower registers of the horn. Drew enters and dwells on a few notes for a bit, then quickly becomes more purposeful, with steely passages in the manner of McCoy Tyner. Leto follows his train of thought and offers encouragement with a variety of beats, particularly dramatic single stroke rolls on the snare and tom toms. Accompanied by the drummer’s hi-hat cymbals and snare, Ray takes a nimble turn that is rich in ideas and execution. Kendall returns to the theme, but this time he gives Leto even more room to articulate a thunderous combination of rhythms.
The band takes Wayne Shorter’s composition “Deluge” for a soulful stroll, with Leto’s strokes on the snare and toms functioning as a kind of supplemental melody. Kendall generates a great deal of heat by concentrating on keeping his sound full and briefly giving the impression that he’s about to take off with a torrent of notes, only to pull back, frequently returning to a few high, keening tones. Drew begins casually, swinging comfortably within the stated pulse, and gradually gets weightier, pounding out forceful, repetitive patterns amidst the broad sweep of the drummer’s ride cymbal. Leto and Drew play with a restrained intensity behind Ray’s solo, in which the bassist displays a genuine flair for melodic invention.
The last track of the recording, “Peace,” Horace Silver’s often-covered ballad, begins with a sparse, doleful introduction by Drew, which leads to Kendall’s straightforward treatment of the melody. The solo that follows is the saxophonist’s most heartfelt of the set, expanding to a passionate release without transforming the bittersweet temper of Silver’s composition. During the tentative start of Drew’s turn, the music breathes easily, then his playing evolves into a series of long, virtuosic single note runs, sounding delirious as he rapidly shifts from one hand to the other.