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It's The Drummer, Stupid

Mark Corroto By

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If you're a jazz misanthrope you probably think first to "shoot the pianist," a saying taken from the Francois Truffaut film of the same name, Tirez sur le pianiste. Truth be told, the most effective way to pull the plug on a jazz band, a very good jazz band, is to take out the drummer. An adept drummer can be the dominant voice in the band, like Elvin Jones, or the batterie could be a colorist like Paul Motian or Jack DeJohnette. Either way, the drummer is the soul of any jazz band. To eliminate him (or her) is to cut the heart out of the ensemble.



Thomas Grimmonprez
Bleu
Zig Zag
2009

This French jazz trio, originating from Lille, covers the eight compositions of its leader and drummer Thomas Grimmonprez with an appetite for music making that is similar to an indie rock band. The beauty of Bleu is that rock-n-roll passion is channeled into three fine jazz musicians. Grimmonprez is joined by Jeremie Ternoy on Fender Rhodes piano and bassist Christophe Hache.

Grimmonprez' drumming commands the entire recording. His penchant is to step out in front of most tracks, muscling the music to keep the groove foremost in your ears. Like Billy Martin or Nasheet Waits, Grimmonprez incorporates rock and hip-hop beats into his jazz swing. He has held the drum chair with such jazz figures as guitarist Marc Ducret, reed player Evan Parker, and pianists Bobo Stenson and Martial Solal. As this disc opens with its slow heart-beating bass and noodling Fender Rhodes, Grimmonprez is in constant movement, first with brushes then the click-clack of sticks on his drum rim, and he pushes the pace as the song gains momentum. Same strategy plays out on "Sphere." Ternoy plays the simple melody as the drummer keeps turning up the heat. By the end, Hache's pulse is nearly overshadowed by the ferocity of the beat and the pianist's frenzy into sounds that would make Sun Ra proud.

Elsewhere, Grimmonprez applies a perfect shuffle on "Sans Glace," works the brushes on cymbal in support of the deep bass lead of Hache on "Planeur," and focuses on an uncluttered tom-tom meditation for "Sans Nom," a sweet theme that allows Ternoy to stretch out a bit on the Fender Rhodes.

Visit Thomas Grimmonprez on the web.

Loren Stillman
Winter Fruits
Pirouet
2009

Winter Fruits is an exceedingly mature recording for a saxophonist who is only 29 years old. But, when it is your eighth as a leader, you surely have a maturity and vision beyond your years and alto saxophonist Loren Stillman has a remarkable notion for how music is constructed.

His first step is choosing players with complementary minds like organist Gary Versace (John Hollenbeck, Brad Shepik, Maria Schneider), guitarist Nate Radley (Eric Rasmussen, Andrew Rathbun), and drummer Ted Poor (Cuong Vu, Ben Monder). These four musicians make up a collective known as Bad Touch. Like the trio Fly, these four make music with a selfless cooperation.

For this session, Stillman leads the affair contributing six of the eight compositions. His playing, like the above mentioned Mark Turner is never rushed. He paces notes shaping his sound from deftly formed designs. The slower sound on "Muted Dreams" gradually builds intensity, with Poor continually coloring the piece, staying in the background but always apparent. The mellowness of "Man Of Mystery" and the reflectiveness heard on "With You" display the restraint you might encounter on a Paul Motian session.

Radley and Versace handle the guitar and organ roles in a distinctive and uncommon manner, opting for the understatement. A rare gem for those two instruments combined. Versace plays the role of a church organist on "A Song To Be Played," doodling some figures until the band slinks in. The title track, written by Poor, bumps up the energy. Alto, guitar and drums play note-for-note to open the piece, followed by a simmering groove by Poor that threatens to explode. With this band, it never will. It is the possibility and the tension that possibility raises that is the strength here.

Visit Loren Stillman on the web.


Tracks and Personnel

Bleu

Tracks: Bleu; Sans Glace; Planeur; Issue de Secours; Sans Nom; Sphere; Presque Enervant; 7040.

Personnel: Thomas Grimmonprez: drums; Jérémie Ternoy: Fender Rhodes; Christophe Hache: bass.

Winter Fruits

Tracks: Muted Dreams; Skin; Man Of Mystery; With You; Like A Magic Kiss; A Song To Be Played; Winter Fruits; Puffy.

Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Nate Radley: guitar; Gary Verace: organ; Ted Poor: drums.


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