I’ve always regarded the ultimate jazz album as being totally transparent.
When you need it to lay out in the background as you read, muddle through 6:00PM traffic or enjoy a quiet evening with your sweetheart, the music is thoughtfully unobtrusive, yet provides the perfect ambience. When you’re ready to crank it up for more critical listening, it confidently assumes center stage, revealing all of the nuances and character to captivate and transform you into artist’s world.
Drummer Paul Samuels has released such a record. His first. A debut that is as intensifying as it is warm and engaging. Recorded in his hometown of Cleveland, Paul enlists the services of stellar saxophonist Greg Osby, brilliant organist & educator Dan Wall and extraordinary percussionist Jamey Haddad who create a remarkable atmosphere of vivid music.
This set wastes no times in setting the mood with Monk’s "Trinkle Tinkle" where Osby and Wall begin interweaving the melody like two psychologists reconstructing a paradigm. The feel is cozy, moving and the arc of the groove is juxtaposed against the agile foot of Wall who is rocking the bass line from the pedals. You know you’re in for an incredible ride.
"Simone," a Frank Foster classic you never tire of hearing follows with a subtle sway that allows Wall to grace us with his aura. A true master of the B3, he addresses us early with a vibrant solo that sets the tone for Mr. Osby to transport us into the next horizon. Samuels, who has laid down a tight foundation from the fore gets to dance merrily underneath the drama, without interrupting the flow. Perfect!
Haddad steps forward on Coltrane’s "Naima" with delicate whispers from his percussive treasuries to underscore the reality that Greg has now switched to a seductive soprano sax as the entire band adorns this beautiful ballad with Northeastern Ohio’s greatest minds. (Wall & Haddad are also native Clevelanders.) This is a chilling arrangement.
"Speak," the album’s title track and only original composition [Samuels, Osby, Wall] is also my favorite. It captures the majesty of exploration as each player enters the ‘fun zone’ displaying individual and aggregative elements of their soul, which always organically surfaces in your song. This tune begs for repeated listening.
Wayne Shorter’s "Fall" finds Osby back on his engaging soprano as the assembly again liquifies this unique verse into a commixture of beauty and mystique. Wall’s B3 is incredibly sensual and calming and the entire arrangement is engulfed by Samuel’s sensitive cymbal work and sumptuous drum fills. The song is an excellent cascade of color and symmetry.
Then we are whisked right back into the swing of things with Coleman’s roguish offering "The Blessing." A splendid conversation between Osby, Wall & Samuels builds and deconstructs again as they settle the matter of melody, groove and bop within the confines of Wall’s infectious bass line.
"Ruby, My Dear" is given far more than a proper nod as the guys explore the other side of Monk’s unique character. Samuels’ excellent brushwork is enticing. Osby’s lovely alto invites a warm response from Wall’s charismatic chops. My second favorite tune! It’s always a pleasure to think you know a song completely and to then discover an innovative rendition that makes you rethink the original is the essence of jazz. Monk is smiling.
Shorter’s "ESP" rounds out the engagement with a thrilling solo by the effervescent Wall, whose layering of notes, meter and feel affirms his true genius. This arrangement is alive with tension, intrigue and supposition. Samuels moves out of the way to give Osby room to make his opening statement and then returns for a thrilling exchange of thought provoking discussion which leads to a tapered climax that fades as Wall joins the two for a summation.
Included at the end of this disc are two radio edits of "Naima" & "Simone." Herein lies one of my tiny disappointments with the entire release. I would’ve much rather preferred two added original compositions from the trio, seeing as how they created such incredible energy with "Speak." I am hoping that the future provides them another opportunity to collaborate, as I am sure they are destined to create new standards for the next generation to study and improve upon as they have clearly done with the covers represented here.
While Paul Samuels doesn’t possess the dexterity of a Dave Weckl or the fire of "Tain" Watts in a similar setting (but then again who does?) he is an incredible drummer with loads of fiery chops and a distinction for passion that shows through on every cut. I would have thought that this set would be laden with many solos showcasing magnificent feats of challenge and dare, being his debut; but Paul gracefully opts for an ensemble role, creating the perfect canvas for Osby and Wall to paint upon. Another selfish lament is that I would have loved to hear more percussion work from the splendid Jamey Haddad, who is without a doubt king of his domain. I felt there were plenty of spaces for more interplay between percussion and drums without complicating the rhythm or stepping on the melody, but it’s fair to say that as a drummer, I have a personal bias.
What’s unmistakably obvious is that this is a stellar recording with the most excellent musicians you could ask for. If you are a jazz lover, you will thoroughly enjoy this album!