Because the fundamental elements of jazz performance are now routinely altered (sometimes beyond recognition) or abandoned altogether, its tough to direct criticism at musicians who play in conventional styles but don’t always toe the line. In the case of drummer Louis Hayes, it may not be fair to point out his occasional rushing of the beat, sporadic inclination to overpower the rest of the band, and infrequent extended solos that are long on technique and short on musical sense. After all, given the current state of jazz drumming, which doesn’t necessarily place a premium on keeping precise time or the ability to selflessly support other instruments, Hayes’ foibles are shared by many other players, and as such frequently regarded as assets, not liabilities.
There is another side, indeed the prevailing one, of the playing of the sixty-four year old veteran who is best known for his performances in the bands of Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner. Falling in between the bebop innovations of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, and the polyrhythmic experiments in time and texture pioneered by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Hayes’ drumming is unique because he drives small bands in a manner that is as calculated and orderly as it is decisive. His clean, uncluttered sound is substantial but not cumbersome like drummers who routinely compete with heavily amplified instruments. As if practicing rudiments was something he took seriously as a youngster and never lost track of, each of his strokes makes its point and dies quickly instead of resounding with a booming finality. The centerpiece of Hayes’ drum set is his snare drum, which both snaps and contains some weight. Nicely tolling with overtones but not ringing too much, the mounted and floor tom toms are regularly utilized to vary the feel of his rhythms, most frequently with single, telling hits. His muffled bass drum is used sparingly, usually as punctuation or in contrast to beats played on the rest of the set. Cymbals of different sizes and gauges are rode (again, Hayes’ touch makes each stroke sound brilliantly distinct) in order to explicitly state the pulse, or crashed with a practiced stroke rather than carelessly pummeled.
The Candy Man, Hayes’ recent release for the TCB label, places his talents in the context of a working quintet which accentuates both precise ensemble playing and spirited blowing. Tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton and trumpeter Riley Mullins are brassy young players conversant with Hayes’ hard bop inclination, yet during their respective ballad features, “The Miracle” and “Ill Wind,” each brings down the excitement level and highlights a more relaxed, melodic manner of improvising. Pianist David Hazeltine leaves his mark on every cut, from animated and highly focused solos to comping which brings out the best in the others—for example, check out the way he plays back variations of Mullins’ lines on “Round and About.” Bassist Santi DeBriano works hand-in-glove with Hayes’ robust pulse and the two of them challenge the others with varying degrees of rhythmic intensity.
Aside from these individual contributions, the finest thing about the record is that the band treats the material as something more than a means of getting to the solo sections, paying close attention to details and attaining a cohesive group sound. In a slow, convincing crescendo during Horace Silver’s “Pyramid,” the rhythm section marches in step against the horns playing of the melody, making the composition convulse with energy. Similarly, an adroit acceleration of tempo turns Freddie Redd’s solemn “Thespian” into a festive celebration.
Hazeltine’s “Pentagon” contains the most compelling example of Hayes’ ability to lead the band from his drum kit. He exhorts Burton and Mullins from various angles, taking the raw material of their statements and transforming them into something essential. Just when you begin to sense a familiar pattern in the way he accents the snare, a quick hit or two on the bass drum or a stealth-like stroke to a tom tom confounds any expectations and, without ever getting clumsy, pushes the entire band to even greater heights. Again doing the unexpected, Hayes forsakes the customary solo workout with sticks in favor of using brushes to playfully trade fours with DeBriano. Before the band takes the tune out, the leader once again employs sticks to support and interact with Hazeltine’s solo. Hayes’ rapport with the pianist borders on miraculous, as he anticipates every shift in emphasis, judiciously fills in empty space, and suggests new pathways.