Blitz Magazine – The Shape of Things to Come
By Michael McDowell
The notion of the drum kit as the lead instrument in a given ensemble is not an entirely novel concept. Within rock and roll circles, the Surfaris’ Ron Wilson, the Dave Clark Five’s Dave Clark, the Monkees’ George Michael “Micky” Dolenz and former Imperial Records solo artist Sander L. “Sandy” Nelson have all successfully demonstrated the viability of percussion in a prominent role within their own work.
In jazz, such prolific and diverse artists as Bernard “Buddy” Rich, Maxwell Lemuel “Max” Roach, Eugene Bertram “Gene” Krupa and William Randolph “Cozy” Cole have all lobbied successfully in their endeavors to bring the spotlight to the rhythm section. And while the drum kit was not the centerpiece in their own recorded legacies, its role was nonetheless prominent in the output of such giants of the idiom as Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane and Bill Evans.
Born in Denmark and presently headquartered in New York City (after an extended stay in Rio De Janeiro), Jacob Melchior follows suit, albeit with somewhat of a purist perspective. He professes to have incorporated a diverse cadre of influences into his mission statement (and indeed refers to his own efforts as an assimilation of bossa nova and jazz). Even so, the results herein most assuredly showcase a singularity of purpose, with outside contributions reflecting his distinctive musical persona.
Such proclamations do not necessarily suggest an elitist stance, though. Melchior merely focuses upon that which most closely resonates with his own vision and executes accordingly. In the process, he has more than done each genre justice.
To wit, the opening medley, which combines the John Cornelius “Johnny” Hodges and Orchestra classic B-side, Squatty Roo (Bluebird B-11447) with Melchior’s original Dancing Foo, sets the stage for the album at large. The hard bop elements common to both pieces provide an ideal framework for an extended workout, in which Melchior, bassist J.J. Wiggins (also known as Hassan A. Shakur) and pianist Tadataka Unno respond accordingly.
The ambitious trio takes the concept a step further by meshing the relatively low key Anita O’Day/Billie Holiday standard, You Don’t Know What Love Is with Melchior’s duly inspiredLove Is What. In this instance, dynamics play an integral role, and all concerned again rise to the occasion.
And while some may suggest that their inclusion is not that much of a stretch, James Harold “Hal” Kemp’s 1934 J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis-penned hit, For All We Know and Louanne Hogan’s It Might As Well Be Spring (from Richard Charles Rodgers and Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II’s monster classic 1945 motion picture, State Fair) represent the trio’s ability to succinctly articulate two distinct perspectives on the classic ballad template.
The often covered Kemp standard is presented here with guest vocals from Frank Senior. The veteran Harlem-based vocalist eases into center stage with his Billy Eckstine-flavored delivery, while illustrating the relative ease with which Melchior, Shakur and Unno can set aside the spotlight for the common good. Even so, that spotlight shines brightly on each by underscoring their ability to mirror the pensive mood found in the late Jeanne Crain’s lip sync of Hogan’s vocal in that most memorable scene from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oscar-winning landmark.
Nonetheless, there are instances in which the center stage best suits a given artist, as the ambitious delivery afforded Jeanette MacDonald’s Lover (from the 1932 motion pictureLove Me Tonight) handily affirms here. Executed in tandem with Shakur’s like minded Gerry’s Wig (composed as a tribute to his late father, renowned keyboardsman Gerald Wiggins), this frequently revisited highlight of Rogers’ earlier collaborations with Lorenz Milton Hart provides an ideal setting for Unno’s Dave Brubeck/Bill Evans inclinations, with Shakur and Melchior providing full bodied fills in true Jimmy Garrison/Elvin Jones fashion.
Most assuredly, It’s About Time is more than just the Summer Fair that the duly named mid-tempo, contemplative group collaborative featured herein would suggest. To invoke the relatively infrequently trod Stevland Hardaway “Stevie Wonder” Morris ground showcased here, it is a real Bird Of Beauty indeed.