Throughout his legendary, forty-year career, Louis Hayes has lit a percussive fire under some of the most distinguished ensembles in jazz, including extended stays with Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderley, and McCoy Tyner. Although not as celebrated as his activities as a sideman, the groups led by Hayes have always borne his distinctive stamp. For a Sunday afternoon concert at William Paterson University’s Jazz Room, the sound of his quintet was structured from the bottom up, with Hayes’ crackling drums and cymbals dominating the ensemble and exhorting the soloists at every turn. It takes strong musicians to withstand Hayes’ volleys, but his cohorts were more than up to the task, each distinguishing himself in a particular way. Opening with James Williams’ (William Paterson’s newly-appointed director of jazz studies) “Progress Report,” trumpeter Riley Mullins began his solo with short, clipped phrases in the upper register, and continued with long, flowing lines. On Freddie Hubbard’s “Clarence’s Place,” pianist David Hazeltine confronted Hayes and bassist Rufus Reid by spinning out long, hard bop lines and Tynerish chords. After Reid’s thoughtful, melodic turn, the drummer exploded with an electrifying solo that featured his intricate variations of rudimental figures on the snare drum. The intensity level let up slightly on another Williams composition, “Alter Ego,” in which Mullins’ long solo started off quietly, almost oblivious to the storm brewing behind him, and then evolved into long, singing phrases. An up-tempo version of “Lion’s Den,” a Kenny Drew tune, featured tenor saxophonist Rene McLean playing mini-melodies, little puzzles that added up to a coherent whole. His feature on the standard “Body and Soul” evinced a similar approach, spitting out somewhat abstract phrases against the backdrop of the rhythm section’s ever building intensity. The concert concluded with Hazeltine’s nifty arrangement of “My Old Flame,” which included challenging shifts in tempo. The selection was pure, unyielding swing, with Hayes inspiring Mullins, McLean, and Hazeltine to some of their best playing of the set, and climaxing with a drum solo in which he cut loose with a maelstrom of rhythms on every drum and cymbal in his arsenal.
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