Modern bop, live in Minnesota! Yup -- and it's great.
Roy Haynes is 81 years old, and he remains one of the baddest jazz drummers out there, age be damned. In the last fifteen years or so, his band has become one of the prime post-Blakey training grounds for young talent, as well as a top-notch postbop live act that burns from the first note. Whereas more than cements Haynes's reputation as a talent scout and red-hot bandleader.
Haynes calls it his "Fountain of Youth Band", but the listener should feel free to wonder if it is not the drummer who provides the elixir of energy. Throughout this set, Haynes is indefatigable -- stoking the rhythmic fire relentlessly and inventively. The drumming is light and fast, sure -- but it is in constant popping dialogue with the band. Without being obnoxious or upstaging, Haynes is engaging in a continual counterpoint of syncopation with his young charges. It's a delightful dash of virtuosity.
That said, the band sloucheth not. Jaleel Shaw, on alto, is steel and hard-charging fire. While you can find the full range of colors in his playing, he seems most urgent and strong on the cookers, like the opener, Trane's "Mr. PC". He pushes his saxophone lines to their breaking points, letting his sound shatter just a little against the edge of the harmony, and this is what gives the group a touch of out-cat style. In other places, he whirls like a young Arthur Blythe -- as he scours the bottom of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge", for example.
My vote for Most Amazing Young Cat in the Band, however, goes to pianist Robert Rodriguez. There's no shortage of astonishing young pianists in jazz, but Rodriguez jumps to the fore with originality and power. Harnessing ideas from all over the jazz spectrum, Rodriguez plays a bold kind of post-bop piano -- with a toe dipped in McCoy Tyner, a pinky in Keith Jarrett, and maybe even an earlobe channeling Herbie Hancock -- yet his particular combination seems largely new. His solo on Monk's "Bemsha Swing", for example, is built around punched chordal fragments interspersed with shards of blues melody -- the kind of pianistic strategy Don Pullen might have used, but with a greater sense of off-kilter raggedness as the solo progresses. On Charlie Parker's little-covered "Segment", his descending lines sound like brilliant hits on a snare drum, and the pure linear momentum of his melodies plainly inspires the leader. Haynes has got to be thrilled to have this guy in the band.
As has become common in recent years, Haynes includes compositions from all over: transformed standards ("My Heart Belongs to Daddy"), bop classics ("Segment"), something by Chick Corea ("Like This"), a tune by Pat Metheny (the poptastic "James"), some Monk, and modern standards like "Inner Urge". The intent, it seems, is to sum up all the great things about jazz between 1945 and 2005 -- a goal as ambitious as it is successful. There is blues, pop, and bop in equal measures all over this music -- fun as well as daring in intensity.
This concert was recorded, of all places, in St. Paul, Minnesota -- the home of A Prairie Home Companion. There's nothing nostalgic or self-mockingly Lutheran going on here, though -- just a vein of swinging jazz like a swath of gold beneath the Mississippi River. The mayor of St. Paul had declared January 20-22, 2006 to be "Roy Haynes Weekend", and concerts ensued.
And you try to imagine it: deeeeeep in the heart of a Minnesota winter, a politician had the genius to warm his city with the fire of a great jazz drummer. Whereas grows from a city's proclamation: "Whereas it is acknowledged that Roy Haynes once played with John Coltrane... whereas Mr. Haynes has a history of hiring the hottest young cats on the scene...", but it becomes much more. Haynes brings the heat -- throwing plenty of wood on the fire and meaning to melt a glacier. This is a seriously cookin' release from one of our greatest drummers, and I suspect that St. Paul was able to shed its mittens last January.
As the weather turns cold again, it's not a bad idea at all.