Joey Baron: Heaven on Earth, Stolas & Dream Dance
James Carter/John Medeski/Christian McBride/Adam Rogers/Joey Baron
Masada Quintet Featuring Joe Lovano
Enrico Pieranunzi / Marc Johnson / Joey Baron
Some drummers bring a unique personal sound and approach to everything they do, so that they are instantly recognizable, regardless of the context. Not so Joey Baron, who is the common link on these CDs. As a drummer and band mate, Baron is more of a chameleon, adapting his approach and technique to the concept at hand. So you'd be hard-pressed to identify Baron on these three outings by any personal sounds or quirks, as the drumming on all three albums is both firmly idiomatic and technically accomplished. That's quite a feat, for the albums represent three very dissimilar, strong jazz styles and traditions, each reimagined in a contemporary or even postmodern way.
With the quintet on Heaven on Earth, putative leader James Carter (here playing mainly tenor sax, but also some baritone and soprano) pays homage to, while smartly updating the tradition of, populist jazz of the mid-20th century that once flourished in urban clubs and at JATP concerts. Sometimes hyphenated as soul-jazz, jazz-blues or funk-jazz, it embraced the groove and spirit of the black popular music of the day with in-your-face exuberance. Carter, whose lip-smacking, guttural vibrato recalls the honking saxists of early R'n'B, plays with a swashbuckling swagger that would have made PT Barnum proud. And in B3 organist John Medeski (of the jazz-rock/jamband trio Medeski Martin and Wood) he's found a keyboardist with a circus sensibility willing to explore the calliope aspects of the instrument in a way that would please that modern musical Barnum, George Clinton. Fleshing out the iconic organ-sax combo is bassist Christian McBride, channeling the funk of his hero James Brown. Adding solos that veer from rock pyrotechnics to soulful jazz is versatile guitarist Adam Rogers. Baron nails it all down with emphatic backbeats and splashy funk delivered with fat thwacks as likely to come from stick-bundles or brushes as sticks or mallets. While the drumming with the Masada Quintet on Stolas is very different, technically, from Heaven on Earth, it is also often rooted in grooves and a steady beat. With a front line of Joe Lovano's tenor sax and Dave Douglas' trumpet (with guest John Zorn on one track), plus pianist Uri Caine, bassist Greg Cohen and Baron, this is a group with more than a passing resemblance to the classic '50s quintets of Miles Davis, Shorty Rogers, Horace Silver and Clifford Brown/Max Roach. Like those ensembles, the material is approached with a composer/arranger or leader's sensibility, each tune evoking and sustaining a particular mood, one often set by the tempo and rhythm, although seemingly dominated by improvised solos. But here the material is not hard bop or pop standards but Zorn's "radical Jewish" originals named for angels, tunes that reference klezmer and traditional Jewish music and often employ faintly exotic Middle Eastern rhythms and scales. So we find Baron creating a number of rhythmic patterns with mallets on tom-toms and cymbals. Dream Dance presents a piano trio working in the collaborative tradition popularized by Bill Evans. Like Evans, Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi can be rhapsodic and lyrical but, also like Evans when he was at his best, he commands a steely touch and intellectual rigor. Here, in a program of Pieranunzi originals that display the pianist's penchant for melodies both haunting and abstract, Marc Johnson and Baron participate in the music making with democratic equality, the bassist festooning counterlines around the nominal piano leads while Baron echoes, accents and delineates lines with rhythmic counterpoint and dynamic textures, often employing brushes on hi-hat or snare. Note how he changes timbres from brushes to sticks on the gamboling fast "Five plus Five." But the trio is at its interactive, seductive best on the waltzes: the crescendo-rich "No-nonsense," acutely insistent "Peu de Chose" and the ravishing title track.
Tracks and Personnel
Heaven on Earth
Tracks: . Diminishing; Slam's Mishap; Streets Of Dreams; Infiniment; Blue Leo; Heaven On Earth.
Personnel: James Carter: saxophones; John Medeski: keyboards; Christian McBride: basses; Adam Rogers: guitar; Joey Baron: drums.
Tracks: Haamiah; Rikbiel; Psisya; Sartael; Tashriel; Rahtiel; Tagriel; Serakel; Rigal.
Personnel: Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; Dave Douglas: trumpet; Uri Caine: piano; Greg Cohen: bass; Joey Baron: drums; John Zorn: alto saxophone (6).
Tracks: End of diversions; No-nonsense; As never before; Castle of solitude; Peu de chose; Nippono ya-oke; Pseudoscope; Dream dance; Five plus five.
Personnel: Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums.