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While I’d hate to be accused of hyperbole, we’ll save a lot of time here if we just cut to the chase. Drummer Herlin Riley’s debut set as a leader is as strong a maiden voyage as anything in recent memory, along with being an early contender for one of the best new jazz releases of 2000. Taking a cue from boss Wynton Marsalis, Riley has assembled a diverse and devastatingly attractive set of nine originals that have been tailored to meet the needs of the ensemble at hand, very much in keeping with Ellington and Marsalis conventions.
Even if you weren’t aware of Riley’s New Orleans heritage, the title track sports a buoyant second-line groove complete with those Southern spices, Victor Goines’ lusty baritone akin to James Carter’s forays on the instrument. Tweak things up a notch and you’ve got the up-tempo burner “New York Walk,” complete with an extended tag that launches some pyrotechnics from Riley at the tune’s conclusion. Creative voicings come your way with soprano sax and muted bone on “Coodie Coo,” an odd-metered line in 7/4. In fact, a break with conventional time signatures continues with “Myrosa’s Mirage” which is in five and with “Soscalalah Blues” which shuffles between a 12/8 groove and a straight ahead 4/4.
As lead voices, Gordon, Goines and Kisor (on two cuts) conjure a robust sound that actually makes this band sound like a larger unit than what it is in reality. The former makes delicious use of various mutes, while the latter develops a distinctive voice on his many saxophones as well as clarinet. Whitaker and Barron form an exceedingly unified team with Riley, whose own well-dispersed solos are musical blockbusters in their own right. But there I go belaboring the point. Grab this disc. It’s a gem; ‘nuff said.