Eric Binder is a drummer based in the Chicago area gaining recognition as a teacher and technician who combines slick sequencing and academic awareness to create modern masterworks with a classic jazz sound. This abbreviated yet consistently inspiring album affirms Binder as a rising force on the US jazz scene.
Authenticity is obviously vital to Binder, who earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and teaches at three colleges. He has multiple, academic-based publications to his credit, and his commitment to distinct bop forms is apparent here. The album was recorded during a searing single session last January and shines with a glow of spontaneous combustion all the way down to its fine retro-orange cover.
"The project is a chordless trio reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West and Live At the Village Vanguard groups," Binder told All About Jazz. "Each composition was written honoring a tune or composer of the hard bop era. It would be interesting to see if listeners can guess! We met at the studio in Brooklyn, no rehearsals, and cut the record. I love this style of recording. It's how most of the Prestige sessions happened, for instance. It results in a completely organic, truly improvised final product. The recordings of the '40s, '50s, and '60s are so perfectly imperfect, and that's the sound I love. The attitude back then was 'time is money,' there wasn't time to go back and do fifteen takes of each tune. We mirrored that philosophy and mostly did the entire record in one take. It was honestly beautiful and one of my favorite sessions ever."
This record is indeed old school through and through, reinforcing the studiously conceived, deeply disciplined approach to jazz Binder has presented in previous endeavors. The album opens with "Trane Ride," a simmering take that drifts along as Binder lays down a variety of licks serving alternate leads with Walter Smith III's tenor sax. The song carries clear references to John Coltrane; the trio take some considerably giant steps of their own. A simmering rhythm section duet between Binder and bassist Petros Klampanis is brief but highly engaging.
"Blues Jawn" swings hard with Binder's precision pace lighting the way for another crisp interlude of kettle drum. "Luna" is a steamy cut that gives Smith plenty of syncopated space to stretch out on sax. Don't be surprised if the room fills up with smoke.
"BFTF" is a lighthearted, laid back lesson in maintaining beats on multiple surface levels and furthers an impression that Binder is so immersed in the genre he probably bops when brushing his teeth or checking his mail. The initials signify "blues for the flu" from pre-pandemic times, written while Binder was under the weather. It's good for what ails you. "To Be Alone" and "Metallic Sky" slide into a more restrained, bluesy groove but there is still plenty of intricate interplay as Binder rolls along.
It takes confidence and a sense of history to employ an album title previously chosen by Art Blakey in 1957 or Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, and Kenny Drew in 1960. No traditionalist should get cranky over the method in which Binder spanks his skins. Hard bop fans now have another reason to rejoice. This record's running time may be relatively quick at around twenty-six minutes, but there is no shortage of precision power here.
Trane Ride; Blues Jawn; Luna; BFTF; To Be Alone; Metallic Sky
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