Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mark Guiliana, the last word in jazz drumming, points to his roots in 'Jersey'

Mark Guiliana, a thinking man's drummer.
A new star will make a stop nearby at the Midwest's premier jazz festival on Labor Day weekend. Mark Guiliana is a jazz drummer with a remarkable sensitivity to sound and loads of restraint when it comes to displaying his technique. He will bring his quartet to the Detroit Jazz Festival Sunday evening. That may be as close as you can get anytime soon to the Guiliana magic, though it is likely to draw back from some of the electronic extensions of his recent activity and focus on material from "Jersey" (Motema).

The disc's largely original material, acoustically vivid, is capped by a tribute to his quondam employer, David Bowie, in the form of Bowie's "Where Are We Now?"  The distribution of the material is nearly unique to each track. His colleagues are saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist Fabian Almazan, and bassist Chris Morrssey.  The title track is perhaps the most conventional — a ballad that seems to be in standard song form, but it is no empty-headed slog. The slow tempo is sustained, yet well-prepared short-note playing overtakes the tenor-sax and piano lines before a repeated bass figure closes it out.

The interaction always has an element of surprise to it. The peppy "Our Lady" features an excellent Almazan solo, and a different kind of showcase for Guiliana's drums ensues, as he kicks up the patterns under an ensemble ostinato. Sometimes the material is deliberately thin, but it always has a way of launching something inspired: Plentiful drumming suits the spare melody of "Big Rig Jones." In "Rate," the shortest track, only Guiliana is featured, and briefly his fast hands approach the nervous crispness of Buddy Rich. Among the influences the leader cites in that piece, Roy Haynes seems to me uppermost.

Without ever getting staid, good taste is a laudable feature of "Jersey."  Perhaps "BP" verges on the bombastic, but its aggressiveness feels self-contained. I felt disappointment only in the nod to Bowie, the album's longest track, but perhaps this version of "Where Are We Now?" will resonate with the late British star's fans.