Billy Drummond: Dubai (1995)
There is a strong tradition of piano-less groups in jazz. Some examples include Sonny Rollins' trio sessions, nearly all of Ornette Coleman's work, and the great Chet Baker / Gerry Mulligan collaborations. Dubai recalls the great sessions that Elvin Jones led in the late 60's and early 70's. The format demands more of the listener and the musicians as well. But the space that is created can stimulate some truly inspired improvisations. That's what happens here.
Billy Drummond is a powerful and highly musical drummer. He is showcased beautifully in this piano-less quartet setting. Two fine reedmen, Chris Potter and Walt Weiskopf are also given ample opportunity to stretch out. The program is nicely varied and never less than thoroughly engaging, especially if you are draw to this sort of open sounding instrumentation. Peter Washington lays down great, solid support throughout.
Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing For You" is a medium-fast springboard for the players to introduce themselves; Potter and Weiskopf are full of ideas and both have nice fat, tones on tenor sax. Potter throws out lines that may make you think of Coleman Hawkins one moment and of Sonny Rollins the next. Weiskopf has a darker tone that speaks of John Coltrane's influence but neither he nor Potter descend into rote imitation. They both have plenty to say in their own words. A short and satisfying solo by Washington leads to exchanges between the hornmen and Drummond, and the stage is set for the rest of this superb disc.
Drummond offers his composition as the title track, a middle-eastern sounding line in 7/4 which has the percussionist showing his love for Elvin Jones-esque wailing in support of Potter's soprano sax and more tenor from Weiskopf. The track literally burns. Pat Metheny's lovely ballad "The Bat" inspires tender statements from Potter and Washington with Drummond painting impressionistic colors on the cymbals. The intensity builds steadily on "Drumhead," a Weiskopf tune, until it reaches a saxophonic climax. The bass drops out when things reach critical mass but he jumps back in to save them from self-immolation. More great interplay on Weiskopf's "Invisible Sun" with Potter's bass clarinet and soprano darting around the tenor lines. Back to two tenors on "Bananafish" by Potter. A Calypso feel adds spice to the stew. Weiskopf does a ballad turn on Billy Strayhorn's Daydream and the session leaves us wanting more as the quartet does a slippery dance on Dewey Redman's "Mushi-Mushi."
Dubain (a 1996 release) is worth searching out. Billy Drummond has produced a gem of a recording that offers up the best that jazz has to offer. Great tunes, superb musicianship, and something new to hear with each listening. I can't keep this out of my CD player.