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Hungarian-born drummer Ferenc Nemeth is primarily known as the percussive presence behind the music of one-of-a-kind guitarist Lionel Loueke, but roles are reversed on the drummer's triumphant sophomore album. Loueke, saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Kenny Werner join forces with, and in support of, Nemeth, forming one of the most potent foursomes on record in 2012.
Nemeth's skills as drummer, composer and musical casting agent come together brilliantly on this gripping set of music that takes shape around tides of emotional development. Nemeth captures various states of being in his writing (i.e. "Joy," "Sorrow," "Hope") and he sets the music in motion with his crackerjack organic drum work. Stylistic and architectural consistency is never in question, but much of the beauty in this work is in the transitions and awakening of mixed emotions. Nemeth doesn't write in neat, formulaic blocks; he writes in human thoughts and flowing dialogue, making digression and cohesion key components of his work.
Various interludes and offshoots allow for monologue moments, like Loueke's starry night strumming ("Interlude I"), or head-to-head encounters, as on an explosive Nemeth-meets-Redman pas de deux ("Interlude II"), but the drummer is often at his best when firing up the full monty. Dark shadows and jauntiness meet on the title track, unrestrained joie de vivre comes through on the melodically engaging and appropriately titled "Joy," and gleeful piano lines probe deep into the aural psyche on "Purpose."
Redman, Werner and Loueke all belong to a rarefied breed of jazz musician operating above and beyond the general jazz populous, yet they don't usually run in the same circles. Nemeth's inspired decision to bring them together yields great results at every turn. They feed off of each other's energy as they ride the rails of musical development and evolution, spurred on by Nemeth's winning stick work. An auxiliary woodwind section adds even greater depth to this already-stupendous music by avoiding standard sweetening techniques. While the winds make themselves at home on "Longing," that track proves to be the exception. Block chord beds are largely avoided in favor of a get-in-and-get-out type of scoring that benefits the whole; these woodwinds come off like welcome musical ghosts in the machine.
While it might be a groaner to say that Triumph lives up to its name, it's the absolute truth. This may be the critical sleeper disc of the year.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.