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The Big Beat: Edwin G. Hamilton, Scott Neumann, Donald Edwards, Arthur Vint, Rob Garcia, Jeremy Warren

C. Michael Bailey By

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This is a spotlight on drums...a pretty big spotlight. Edwin G. Hamilton
The Whole World Must Change
Self Produced
2016

It's hard enough to find a drummer, much less one who sings. There is Les DeMerle, and he is fine, but, the drummer/singer is a pretty hard chair to fill, if that is what one is looking for. Enter Edwin G. Hamilton, student of Herlin Riley and contemporary of a generation of young artist plowing that field toward individuality. On the Whole World Must Change, Hamilton possibly shows off his vocal prowess more than his percussive skills save for his shimmering drums-only rendition of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." What is provocative about Hamilton's approach here is his challenge to the listener to find Rollins' famous melody with in the beat of the music. Hamilton populates this recording with the talents of pianist Eric Reed on swinging "Straight, No Chaser," the somber title piece, featuring trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome," with Niki Haris. Hamilton's arranging and orchestration betrays both a keen creativity and sense of humor coupled with a firm technical grasp of all instruments and their individual places in his performances. There is much fun to be had in this collection.

Scott Neumann & Todd Christiansen
Spin Cycle
Spin Cycle Music
2016

Drummer Scott Neumann chooses a more tightly focused project with Spin Cycle on which he shares leadership responsibilities with saxophonist Tom Christiansen. The overall character is one of sharp hard bop edges honed by Christiansen's tenor saxophone coupled with guitarist Pete McCann's sharp playing poured into a post-bop rhythmic sense. From 30,000 feet, drummer Neumann demonstrates, 50 years later, the importance of Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell to "free jazz." In fact, I would describe Spin Cycle as what happened after Ornette Coleman's paint dried. Strategically demarcated, this is jazz for the present with no pandering to either popular trends (adult contemporary fare) or conventional wisdom (amorphous jazz of central Europe). All of these different flavors of music have their place, Neumann and Christiansen have just elbowed their way to the table. The most exciting piece on the record is the beautifully overdriven and heavy-handed "Smart Aleck" appropriately composed by Neumann. It presents the next evolution of music that started with Jonas Hellborg and continued with Stanton Moore. It is beautiful noise!

Donald Edwards
Prelude to Real Life
Criss Cross
2016

Where Neumann and Christiansen's Spin Cycle was a precisely arranged project, complete with points, corners, edges, and swinging at gunpoint, drummer Donald Edwards's Prelude to Real Life exudes an easy charm that is the result of Edward's close association with his core quintet, all of whom, save for bassist Luques Curtis, performed with the drummer on his 2013 debut recording Evolution Of An Influenced Mind (Criss Cross). Edwards is better known for those he has played with (Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Carmen Lundy, the Marsalis Brothers, ad infinitum, but now he has fully stepped into the spotlight as leader. Edward's composing is a mixture of breezy grace and thoughtful momentum, largely propelled by the leader's orchestral drumming. Joined by vocalist Vivian Sessoms on three selections ("Hop Scotch," Alex Sipiagin's "Way to Her," and "Thought for the Day"), Edwards displays a knack for composing provocative lyrics to match his circuitous melodies. Edwards includes two standards, a smoothly satisfying take on Benny Golson's "Stablemates," and a most angular look at Thelonious Monk's "Skippy." Here saxophonist Walter Smith truly shines.

Arthur Vint & Associates
Through the Badlands
Ropeadope Records
2016

Theme, arrangement, orchestration, performance: the odd man out here is theme, but when it is intelligently conceived and cleverly realized, theme, alone, can make a recording. Gratefully Drummer Arthur Vint does not solely rely on theme for his debut recording Through the Badlands. As the name tacitly implies, the theme is saturated with all things Western American. Vint is steeped in his theme, having grown up in Tucson, Arizona before moving the New York City. His composing is panoramic in a sound track sense, as if Ennio Morricone breathed in all of what originally defined the spaghetti western score and exhaled the fresh music here. Vint's most inspired instrument inclusion is Tony Sherr's excellent slide guitar playing. There is not a shred of blues present, only that high border guitar sound. That, coupled with Rich Perry's tenor saxophone and Andrew Halchak's bass clarinet quickens the broad expase of this recording. Pianist John Cowherd and Yvonnick Prene' harmonica are finishing touches to the beautifully crafted western motif.

Rob Garcia
Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet
Bjure Records
2016

What a title!. Colleague Franz Mantzner, in his fine review of Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet spent his introduction emphasizing that this is not a protest recording. Rather it is a statement of the hard truth and facts with no musical editorialization. What drummer Rob Garcia does accomplish is producing a stylistic panorama. Not a genre mashup, per se, but a synthesis of his broad experience. Bolstered by contributing musicians like saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Gary Versace with cameos by vocalist Kate McGarry and saxophonist Joe Lovano, Garcia is able to assemble a baker's dozen performances that are beautifully complex while at the same time, are also accessible and enjoyable. The lone "standard" "Beautiful Dreamer" is a nostalgic ringer presented as an abstraction. There is nothing relaxed about it. The song's performance contains all of the anxiety and angst one could expect from social upheaval. Garcia's playing is cacophonous and universal and it compels his bandmates to playing well above their head, and that is saying something.

Jeremy Warren
I Can Do All Things
Self Produced
2016

This story begins with Dr. Jack Cooper, Associate Professor and Jazz and Studio Music Area Coordinator at the University of Memphis and musical director and founder of the Jazz Orchestra of the Delta. Besides producing his own notable recordings, which include, Big Band Reflections Of Cole Porter (Summit Records, 2003) and the uniformly excellent Mists -Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts Records, 2014), Cooper has provided, through his instruction, drummer/composer Jeremy Warren, whose debut recording, I Can Do All Things. A childhood victim of Steven Johnson Syndrome, Warren has had to overcome several health obstacles, to emerge the commanding artist he is. Listening to Warren, and all of the drummers presented here, I am once again reminded of the importance of first Kenny Clarke and then Elvin Jones and Tony Williams in the evolution of jazz drumming. What Warren demonstrates on his 10 pieces presented here is perfect control over rhythmic chaos. His composing is sharp and exciting, covering much ground. Warren's wife, Dermel Warren, contributes vocals to several selections, adding a decidedly mainstream flavor to the recording. A pleasant surprise is Lenny Pickett contributing tenor saxophone to Dr. Jack Cooper's "J-Dub Step." A great beginning for a fine young artist.

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