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Jakob Dreyer: Songs, Hymns And Ballads Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

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This is an excellent debut for Dreyer. On it, he shows both a strong sense of composition and arrangement, but it is his bass playing that always stands out. He has incorporated many influences in his young career and has managed to develop a sound that is uniquely his own. Taken together, these two releases form an impressive body of work.
German-born bassist Jakob Dreyer grew up interested in many diverse music styles. He says, "As a little child I had a thing for national anthems, church hymns, and traditional songs with simple melodies that I could remember and sing." He began playing classical piano at a young age but also enjoyed playing the pop music he was listening to. He does note, "My dad had a couple of jazz records, but I was not particularly interested in them."

He picked up the bass as a teenager and came across Best of Stanley Clarke (Epic, 1982), an album that began his appreciation of jazz. That was followed by hearing several albums from the Prestige label era of Miles Davis where Paul Chambers became his inspiration. Charles Mingus and Dave Holland also became influential, later discovering Bill Evans and his trios with bassists Scott LaFaro and Eddie Gomez.

He moved to New York City in 2014, and immersed himself in the jazz scene, playing with many well-known players. He studied with John Patitucci and Mike Richmond and later received his Masters in music performance at City College.

Dreyer described how this project came about. "It was during the pandemic that I had the idea to record all the music that I had written over the years. We recorded all the songs in two days in New York. Originally I wanted to do one release with whatever songs turned out best, but then the label and I thought that all of them were good and we decided to use all songs and split it into two releases. One feature that all the songs have in common is, that they have a simplistic melody that is easy to remember and to sing. That's why I called it: Songs, Hymns & Ballads Vol 1 and Vol 2."

The two volumes contain 17 songs that clock in at just under two hours. Though, as Dreyer said, the melodies are relatively simple, the arrangements are subtle and have great depth. For the project, he has put together a very talented band. Jason Rigby on tenor has appeared on several Grammy-nominated recordings and Jon Cowherd on piano has played with the likes of Brian Blade, Chris Potter and Norah Jones. Jimmy Macbride on drums is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied privately with Carl Allen and Kenny Washington and has performed with Terence Blanchard and Kenny Barron.

Vol. 1 opens with "Milchstrasse." Named after a street in Hamburg, this mid-tempo waltz offers a lilting melody reminiscent of the John Taylor/Kenny Wheeler songbook. Rigby plays with hints of Joe Lovano before Cowherd adds his thoughts showing a light, percussive touch.

Other highlights include "Legrand." Dreyer states it too was inspired by Wheeler as well as Michel Legrand. He notes, "I was also trying out a lot of the classical tools of composition in this; augmentation, diminution, inversion, retrograde, transposition, etc." His bass solo here is melodic yet forceful, full of harmonic excursions. Rigby and Cowherd follow with solos that are thoughtful and swinging.

"Ypsilon" (see video below) is inspired by Wayne Shorter/John Coltrane and has a nice vibe. It starts with a relaxed groove in 9/4 while the B-section is in 4/4. After the lovely melody is stated by Rigby, his solo shows an ability to play around the melody before going into a more fanciful excursion of sound. Both piano and bass follow with short solos that further the feel of the melody.

"Twenty Twenty" was written in 2020 during the pandemic. Dreyer says, "It's sort of a depressing ballad but the mood changes to something much more positive and hopeful. I was trying to use simple form and basic chords and their inversions." It is a hauntingly beautiful track that reminds one of the Keith Jarrett quartets. Dreyer approaches the track and his solo in a similar manner as Charlie Haden.

"Mandalay," named after a bar Dreyer used to perform in, is also a Coltrane-style type of song. Cowherd lays down dense chords as Dreyer pushes the pace forward with an emphatic bass line, while Rigby floats above sounding like a young Charles Lloyd.

"Beauchene" is a short ballad done by the trio. Named after a bottle of cheap French wine that led to a hangover the next morning, it uses some minor/major tonalities. It is a sad but peaceful tune in the manner of a Bill Evans song.

"Epistemology" (meaning the theory of knowledge) is an up-tempo piece reminiscent in both title and melody of Thelonius Monk. It is a cooker with Cowherd leading the way before Rigby and Dreyer get to jam.

This is an excellent debut for Dreyer. On it, he shows both a strong sense of composition and arrangement, but it is his bass playing that always stands out. He has incorporated many influences in his young career and has managed to develop a sound that is uniquely his own. Along with MacBride on drums, whose work throughout provides an unerring sense of support (especially with his touch on the cymbals), it is he and Dreyer who provide the foundation that allows the music to sing.

Taken together, these two releases form an impressive body of work. On the surface, the music is emotionally comforting. The players' style and sound fit the compositions like a glove. The melodies are strong and the improvisations are nuanced. While the production values tend to soften the overall feel of the music, a serious examination of everything going on beneath the surface provides a continuous wealth of listening pleasure.

Tracks and Personnel

Songs, Hymns & Ballads Vol. 1

Tracks: Milchstrasse; Gothamburg; Legrand; Epistemology; J-Song; Seneca Village; Kaspar; The Cure.

Personnel: Jakob Dreyer: bass; Jason Rigby: tenor sax; Jon Cowherd: piano; Jimmy Macbride: drums.

Songs, Hymns & Ballads Vol. 2

Tracks: Neuland; Ypsilon; Twenty Twenty; Mandalay; Tamara's Waltz; Conjunction; Curfew; Fat Cat; Beauchene.

Personnel: Jakob Dreyer: bass; Jason Rigby: tenor sax; Jon Cowherd: piano; Jimmy Macbride: drums.

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