Drummer Ari Hoenig has just released The Painter , an octet of songs recorded either live or in closed session at Fat Cat, the phoenix from the ashes of what had been the legendary Greenwich Village club Smalls, which shut its doors last year.The bulk of the songs are composed by Hoenig, but a dazzling version of Monk's "I Mean You" opens things up. He lays down a Roach-like opening snare groove, dancing nimbly with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and the strong, persistent plucking of bassist Matt Penman. Hoenig's solo is dynamic, with Pilc supplying punctuation.
The title track follows, the first to feature tenor man Jacques Schwarz-Bart. This is a light waltz of a tune that features a nice pizzicato solo by Penman. Schwarz-Bart has a relatively light touch on the tenor, although he can hit the high notes without a hitch or plumb the depths for a honk or two. Pilc's solo is fluid, and Hoenig's strong drumming drives and spurs things along. The ballad "For Tracy" features Schwartz-Bart's dolorous yet soulful tenor, which he plays off-mic, giving his solo a deeper dimension as Hoenig speaks low with brushes. "Condemnation" opens with a Penman bass walk, then expands playfully with Hoenig doing a rattlesnake shudder first with the brushes, then on the rims with the sticks. Pilc trills on the piano and Hoenig raises the ante by speeding up his playing. The listener senses that something is about to break, and it does when Schwarz-Bart joins the fray with a spiraling solo.
"Remembering" opens with an elegant statement by Pilc, with Hoenig falling in on drums. The tempo increases and leads eventually to a spare but funky interlude and break, with Schwarz-Bart's smoky tenor spurring the band on. "Birdless" is a light, airy tune that displays Hoenig's druming and composing skills.
The title "Pilc-ing Around" suggests something light and playful, but this is the most dramatic song on the disc, featuring more great ensemble work and another classical-type riff by the protagonist. The final song, the standard "Summertime," features an opening statement by Hoenig in which the opening lines of the song can be heard clearly in the drums. He follows this "spoken" intro with a rhythmically challenging solo. Pilc spirals in with Penman and the pace quickens and the trio goes full speed ahead. During Penman's plucked solo Hoenig provides off-center percussive elements by using his hands instead of his sticks for the rhythmic highlights.