An old acquaintance from college days, Bill W., used to say there were 4 kinds of music in the world, and these categories did not necessarily assign to quality or usefulness or desirability. According to Bill, they just were.
These categories of music, as he pit it, were 'Jazzy Jazz', 'noisy Jazz', 'Jazzy noise' and 'noisy noise.' I have not talked to Bill in decades, quite frankly, but I have little doubt, considering what I used to hear emanating from his dorm room down the hall, that he would call this CD by Midwestern drumming sensation Colin Stranahan 'Jazzy Jazz.' It is the most voraciously swinging diamond-hard bop recording I have come across in virtual years. Frankly as I always attempt to be, I am not much into hard bop any longer; but if a Paul Klee comes along to build on the mellifluous line-dancing of a Joan Miro, are you going to wag your finger or are you going to get up and boogie? See, that's what's so bad about critics. Some critics. Not all. We pontificate and we gesture from our thrones and sniff how 'this' smacks too closely of 'that' or whatever but the artist is not interested in this hoo-hah. The artist wants you to experience and react. Dare I say that there are cross-purposes here.
Well, you will react to this CD. Stranahan's merry team Mike Bailey, tenor; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Ken Warren, trumpet; with guests Ron Miles (trumpet) and Jim Stranahan (soprano) on the two longer bits here) are a very rhythmic bunch.
Bands led by drummers and/or bassists don't always tend to be so propulsive (I think, for example, of Mingus' 1960s and very early 1970s small groups) but somehow every note played on this CD implies or directly refers to the beat in a single-minded, driving fashion that's quite overwhelming.
Put this CD on, it's a party in plastic. The simple joy of the endeavor is impossible to miss unless you're in the bathroom with the shower on, from the opening Coltrane cover "26-2" (when did the semidivine John pen this one? Doesn't recall an immediate era to me; maybe right after he left the Miles Davis Sextet?) to the closing "Now I'm Up." So will you be. Other than the 'Trane buzzsaw and an obligatory (good, tho') ballad called "The Arrival" by Jenkins, Stranahan wrote the tunes, and even the melodies have a percussive feel; "Romaine's Groove" puts me in mind of something in Tom Pynchon's novel "V", in which saxophonist McClintic Sphere composes a tune called "Set/Reset" that goes first one way in the melody and then back the way it came, rather like an electronic transistor-type device doing time in your CD player right now that is referred to by us overeducated electrical engineer types as a "flip-flop." Taken at a medium sprightly pace, Stranahan spends most of his time here on the cymbals, not always letting them sound; the play between shimmer and lack of same appends an aura of 'dance' here. Jenkins takes the challenge as would a Chincoteague stallion, landing in all the places Stranahan is not at that particular moment. The play between them is beyond telepathic. Michael Bailey has a laid-back easy feel I have heard from Coleman Hawkins, but not exactly. Both his and Warren's statements underline, as I have said, they rhythmic pulse in a delicious manner. Late in the take, Walker and Jenkins fashion a set/reset trampoline for Stranahan to bounce off of, and he allows himself a crisp 16 bars, after which back to the theme. A stellar drummer of elastic era, Stranahan can do pretty much anything; what I like about his style is it's busy but not too, rhythmic but not too, and melodic. Again, but not too. The late Tony Williams' "finding-forests-in-a-toothpick" method may well have been tried by Stranahan at one time, but he's now a student of the beat, and its many contrasting gospels. As they say in the pews, "Tell it."
Jenkins lays out the flatware for "As if the Dream were Untold" with a first dreamy, then unsettled, then combinational statement that lifts up into another level that somewhat resembles a mildly 'free' section and would more so if one were not able immediately, and don't ask me how they do this, the beat were not underlined anyway. A set of chords floats out of the ensemble somewhat parallel to those knockout originals George Adams used to write for the Mingus groups he was in; Ron Miles and Jim Stranahan favor us with intensely introspective recitations.
I like Jim S.' soprano tone, it has a warmth to it that the higher register woodwinds don't always give. To my knowledge, anyway.
Jeff Jenkins might be the most steady thread that ties this band together, as his piano (a bit reminiscent of Don Pullen on occasion) constantly links horns and thythm section with a kind of bungee-cord action. Not a lot of stretching evident, yes, but the band never had that in mind to do. His ballad ("The Arrival") gives us a quiet moment for consolidation as opposed to crocodile tears, and Walker's lengthy, woody bass break is a treat. Sets you up nicely for the closing uppy numbers "Not Yesterday, Not Today, Not Tomorrow" and "Now I'm Up." Very fine. In the former, you will thrill to an entry after the theme by Bailey's tenor that Ben Webster might have had to work up a sweat beating. And Stranahan's solo in the former may not hit you that it is a solo until Jenkins drifts back in, towing the horns behind him. Near transcendental.
This quintet swings as if they invented it. Get this. It's essential "Jazzy Jazz."
by Kenneth Egbert
New Sounds - August 2004
Jazz Now Interactive August 2004 Vol 14 No. 4 - Table of Contents