Perhaps I’ve become too — what’s the word I want — jaded? Spoiled? Whatever. The fact is that in spite of the complimentary liner notes by Ellis Marsalis, I couldn’t find much to get excited about while listening to drummer Donald Edwards’ debut, In the Vernacular — even with one of the contemporary scene’s shrewdest young trumpeters, Nicholas Payton, helping to stoke the fire. Everyone plays competently enough — although Wessell Anderson’s honking, screeching alto on “Duke of Duckland” is more irksome than impressive — so there’s not much cause for complaint. On the other hand, the sort of freshness that would set this date apart from the many other neo–boppin’ sessions competing for one’s consideration seldom surfaces. Six of the nine selections are originals by Edwards, and even the best of them — the Messengers–like “Dee Gee’s Shuffle” — can’t hope to measure up to the three that aren’t — Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” and Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Guitarist Whitfield, a resourceful young stylist, has his best moments on “Sophisticated Lady,” on which he is featured with pianist Martin, and on the fast–paced “Truth or Consequence,” while Anderson plays with welcome restraint as he underlines the sad and wistful beauty of “Lush Life.” Martin, an aggressive, two–fisted pianist in the Gene Harris/McCoy Tyner image, solos productively, as does the Trane/Shorter–influenced Winston. Payton, on the other hand, isn’t given much room to stretch, and doesn’t produce his usual convincing impression. Edwards, who clearly boasts well–honed technical skills, takes center stage only on “Mr. Brown” and “Truth or Consequence” but keeps flawless time throughout, as does bassist Guerin. In sum, a well–played post–bop session that is modestly engaging but seldom rises above that.
Track listing: Finger Painted Swing; Duke of Duckland; Dee–Gee’s Shuffle; Sophisticated Lady; Mr. Brown; Essential Passion; Like Sonny; Truth or Consequence; Lush Life (64:22).
Donald Edwards, drums; Wessell Anderson, alto saxophone; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Brice Winston, tenor saxophone; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Peter Martin, piano; Roland Guerin, bass.