The direction may be new but its foundations are as old as jazz itself, and deeply rooted in New Orleans.
The drummer who has been a key player with pianist Ahmad Jamal and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is proving himself a strong band leader with a knack for writing catchy tunes and an Art Blakey-like attitude to nurturing young talent. Most of the players here are under 30.
His hometown together with his fondness for gospel feel and dance rhythms feed into his music giving it those strong roots. There are high energy numbers and cool ballads, pretty harmonies from trumpeter Bruce Harris and saxophonist Godwin Louis, some fine soloing from pianist Emmet Cohen, and a Latin feel added by young conga star Pedrito Martinez. Guitarist Mark Whitfield is the guest on the opener.
That opening title track says it all really – against an “in the pocket” beat from Riley and a circling riff from bassist Russell Hall, Whitfield plays a second circling figure and the horns lay a third over the top. All of them have the kind of hooky appeal that leaves you whistling a mix of them for the rest of the day. The whole thing has that winning mix of musical sophistication and downright good vibes that buoy up so much of the music that has come out of New Orleans.
The rest of the album is just as good. A Spring Fantasy and Shake Off The Dust have gently Latin grooves and lovely harmonies from the horns, while Connection To Congo Square brings the crucial African link up to the minute.
Crucially it’s Riley’s drums which boost the music’s stature and push it all along at such a deeply groovy pace – he is able to create a bubbling world of percussion one minute and a spacious, minimal snare and cymbal pulse the next.
Categories: CD review