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Alex Riel Special Quartet: Full House

Chris Mosey By

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In 1963, at the tender age of 23, Alex Riel became the house drummer at Montmartre-the Copenhagen jazz club-backing such US giants as Dexter Gordon, Paul Gonsalves, Don Byas, Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham and Archie Shepp.

In 2010, he returned to the legendary Scandinavian venue which had recently reopened as a jazz club after being many other things over the years, including a hairdressing salon. Now he was the star of the show, doyen of Danish drummers and there to celebrate his 70th birthday.

He played to an ecstatic audience with a special quartet whose other members included Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert, Italian pianist Dado Moroni and Danish bassist Jesper Lundgaard.

Kjeld Frandsen, music critic for the Danish daily newspaper Berlingske, said Riel "responded by igniting a fantastic musical firework display." This album chronicles part of that display.

It's basically a good, old-fashioned blowing session but one that hasn't always translated that well to disk. The principal problem is Robert's tendency to dominate the proceedings with his uninhibited, sometimes incoherent wailings, particularly on the opener, an overly rambunctious version of "Just Friends."

However, Moroni is a joy throughout, bringing cohesion to the ensemble and soloing with great distinction. His two-fisted solo on John Coltrane's "Impressions," in which he interacts superbly with Riel, saves the number after Robert's parade of Trane-type licks-better suited to the jazz department of the University of Applied Sciences in Lausanne, where he otherwise teaches.

During "Body And Soul," Robert inserts a chorus of "Happy Birthday To You" to ecstatic cries from the audience, fine on the night but a trifle wearing after repeated plays. And Riel's own composition, "Chiming In," a gimmicky, extremely short piece relying, as the title implies, on the use of chimes, serves no real purpose.

Robert is largely absent from Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone In Love," which comes as a relief, and when he returns it is mercifully in less frenetic mode on Willard Robison's lovely, lilting ballad, "Old Folks," on which Lundgaard plays superbly.

The proceedings come to a tumultuous close with a bluesy-sometimes almost rhythm and bluesy-treatment of Clifford Brown's "Sandu," with Robert subdued, Moroni magnifico, and Lundgaard lovingly bowing a subtle solo.

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