Drummer-led recordings are a rare item in most genres, yet there have been many memorable ones over the years. And what comes as a surprise to the uninitiated is how musically rewarding these efforts can be. Fact is that the best drummers are not only masters of manipulating rhythms, but are also highly skilled in understanding the harmony and theory of music as well. Having worked with an elite list of musicians including Eric Reed, Kenny Garrett, Lou Donaldson, and Dave Stryker, McClenty Hunter, Jr. was poised to have his say as a leader and the results are nothing less than impressive.
Although he's highly admired by Blue Note collectors, pianist Herbie Nichols is not a household name, and his compositions are not regularly found in the books of today's jazzmen. So hats off to Hunter for jump starting his maiden voyage with Nichols' "Blue Chopsticks" in a sublime rendition headed by pianist Eric Reed. Other notable covers include a bristling romp through Wayne Shorter's "Big Push," where tenor man Stacy Dillard really shines, and Gary McFarland's breezy "Sack Full of Dreams."
Co-producer Dave Stryker offers some greasy guitar runs on the shuffle groove that propels Stevie Wonder's "That Girl." Hunter is in the zone here as he delivers one of the finest shuffle feels around. He also steps out front for the freewheeling John Coltrane opus "Countdown." Nonetheless, Hunter always serves the music here and never overplays in a flashy manner. Pay particular attention to his drum sound throughout the date. The bass drum and toms ring in a natural way and his crisp snare rounds out a full-bodied approach that is highly musical and recorded in a pleasing and natural manner.
Hunter's originals are as much the star attraction here as his organic drumming. A lovely waltz, "Autumn" plaintively sets a mood with Dillard again proving his case for talent deserving of wider recognition. Although it starts out like a whisper, "My Love" quickly fires up with Hunter in an Elvin Jones mood and Dillard in Trane territory. "I Remember When" is a fine showcase for the talents of pianist Christian Sands in a medium tempo that Hunter supports with varied shadings and textures. The closing "Give Thanks" speaks in hushed tones with Hunter using mallets on his toms and Dillard's soprano conjuring its own spells.
Hunter debuts here with a sagacious mix of originals and choice standards and leads with an intelligent hand. It's a compliment to say that without looking, one would be hard pressed to guess that this is a drummer-led session. And that in itself is the sincerest form of flattery.
Blue Chopsticks; The Big Push; Autumn; That Girl; My Love; Sack Full Of Dreams; I Remember When; Countdown; Give Thanks.
McClenty Hunter Jr.: drums; Eddie Henderson: trumpet (2); Donald Harrison: alto saxophone (2, 8); Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone (2, 3, 5); Eric Reed: piano (1-3, 5, 8-9); Christian Sands: piano, Fender Rhodes (4, 6-7); Dave Stryker: guitar (4, 6); Corcoran Holt: bass (1-3, 5, 8-9); Eric Wheeler: bass (4, 6-7).
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