Ari Hoenig - Lines of Oppression
At his regular gigs at New York's Smalls Jazz Club, hyperkinetic drummer Ari Hoenig rarely leaves a jaw undropped. His style is unusually intense and extroverted, overflowing with knotty complexity yet weirdly infectious. Over the course of his 15 years in New York, Hoenig has assembled a rotating core of like-minded musicians with a collective vocabulary of endless rhythmic permutations. Hoenig's new album "Lines of Oppression" features a band of young veterans that matches the leader's intensity minute by minute.
Hoenig's complex rhythmic trademarks jump out from the get go. The opening title track starts as if in a simple 4-4 feel until Hoenig barrels in, revealing that the opening hook was actually in 3. It's a moment both disconcerting and playful, sort of like an over-banked turn on an old wooden roller coaster. The rhythmic surprises only multiply on the following "Arrows and Loops," featuring a treacherous mixed-meter melody and some thrilling dialogue between Hoenig and pianist/beatboxer Tigran Hamasyan.
The band's uncanny precision in such rough rhythmic terrain certainly elicits more than a few dropped jaws. But the moment of most-sustained jaw droppage isn't in some crazy time signature at a blistering tempo. Midway through the album, Hoenig begins a drum solo with soft mallets on his tom-toms. His run sound eerily melodic, as if he's playing a set of high-pitched timpani. Gradually, Hoenig works his way into the bluesy Bobby Timmons classic "Moanin'," except the kicker here is that he plays the melody on his drums. The melody is unbelievably clear. Hoenig is somehow able to accurately alter the pitch of his toms with his off stick to make a full blues scale. It's so cheeky and slick. Don't even try suppressing a chuckle.
John Escreet - The Age We Live In
So the Brits are supposed to use better grammar than Americans? Then why would their top new jazz export end his new album title with a preposition? For shame John Escreet.
Ok, I keed (and "The Age in Which We Live" is a much worse title). But I guess what I'm trying to say is that this album throws cultural stereotypes out the window.
The 27-year-old Escreet grew up in Doncaster, England, a pleasant ruralish area in the country's midsection, and studied jazz piano at London's Royal Academy of Music. He has the pedigree of one of those nice British jazz boys, but an in-your-face aesthetic that sounds all hard-edge Manhattan.
Escreet moved to New York after graduating in 2006 and soon fell into the cadre of saxophonist David Binney, holding court at the 55 Bar. "The Age We Live In" is Escreet's second record for Binney's Mythology label and reveals a shared language rather than a master-padawan relationship. Like Binney, Escreet has a penchant for driving rock and funk-related rhythms, snake-like melodies, and the slow build. Binney even co-produced the record and is the lead horn voice throughout. Yet there's never a doubt that Escreet is the leader on this album.
Escreet's various electronic keyboards are pumped high in the mix and he attacks the keys with intensity in both hands. Compositions like the title track and "The Domino Effect" feed off his energy and his ability to fill space playing two keyboards at once. His chops and aggression can be reminiscent of Cecil Taylor, but Escreet knows the benefit of toning it down too, especially on the valedictory backbeat ballad "Another Life." Sticking mostly to an acoustic grand, Escreet underlays the tune with a patient pulse, letting Binney build his solo to a cathartic climax.
The rhythm team of drummer Marcus Gilmore and guitarist Wayne Krantz (another long-time Binney associate) lays a rhythmic backdrop that matches the music's edgy character without getting in the way of Escreet's pyrotechnics. Gilmore's drums snap, crackle and pop, driving the music to almost trance-like states. Without a bassist underneath him, Krantz adds biting lead lines, tangling the tunes in roving counterpoint.
John Escreet is a pianist with high energy and big ideas. But he's also a smart producer and arranger, adding in enough sonic tricks and unexpected detours to hold your attention for a full 54 and a half minutes. I do have a slight quibble with the short intro/interlude/outro tracks - they're cool vamps and all but don't sit long enough and break up the album's continuity. But hey, they only last 90 seconds total, leaving 52 minutes of really good, uncompromising jazz.