Rhythm as a melodic construct: Ari Hoenig Trio plays the Jazz Kitchen

 Drummers as leaders of small groups tend to provoke questions of nearly psychoanalytical daring. How is

Ari Hoenig casts a broad vision. 

their traditional job of support for bandmates changed by imposing their musical signature as the boss? Are they showoffs or servant-leaders? Are they keeping something hidden, even repressed, in order to bring out aspects of their musicianship that they find more important when they're in charge?

On Friday evening, I was glad to catch up with the influential drummer Ari Hoenig at the Jazz Kitchen after knowing his work only through 20-year-old trio CDs by the French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.  

On the basis of these two recordings, I was impressed by how well he keeps up with the quirky pianist (in partnership with bassist Francois Moutin) and became convinced his playing is more than ordinarily responsive to what collegial tune and harmony specialists (bass and piano) are up to. He finds the thread of melody within primarily rhythmic functions.

His drum inheritance can be traced to Ralph Peterson, a mentor he acknowledged from the stage during the set I heard.  An original piece called "Home" is dedicated to Peterson, who died three years ago at 58. A probing array of sounds from the kit, favoring crisp accents and the kind of display that departs from the edge-to-edge canvas-filling of post-bop forebeaars Billy Cobham or Jack DeJohnette, for instance.

He's from the Peterson branch. On "Home," Hoenig unleashed wonders from the brushes, making these softer sticks more orchestral than usual. When he picked up the regular sticks, he favored the tom-toms and a vigorous deployment of the bass drum, never falling into cliches. 

He lent individualized drum accents even during statements of the theme, as the opening number, the original "Anymore," displayed with interplay between the leader and pianist Gadi Lehavi.  There was some inside-the-piano exoticism lent to the introduction to "Tea for Two," a timeless classic characterized here by phrase fragments of the song distributed around a percussion showcase. Mysterious tick-tocking with the brush handles striking drums and cymbals gave a new flavor to another standard, "Sophisticated Lady," where bassist Ben Tiberio took an expressive unaccompanied solo. 

The ensemble stop-start patterns in "Condemnation," another original, were so precise at a lickety-split pace that the internal rapport of the three players was unquestionable. "You Stepped Out of a Dream," the set's other standard, brought out Lehavi's rhapsodic approach to ballads. That aspect was just one arrow in his quiver, however, as he often blanketed the terrain to keep up with Hoenig's maximalism. 

The set closed with two of Hoenig's compositions that gave full vent to the trio's compatibility: "Guernsey Street Gooseneck," an apparent tribute to a Brooklyn thoroughfare Hoenig must be familiar with, and "I'll Think About That," whose title signals that this trio characteristically thinks fast. Don't expect much mulling over once the Ari Hoenig Trio gets to work. So its exciting local-club debut seemed to proclaim. 

At length, analysis has to be suspended. The drummer looks uncommonly fierce when he plays, but he seems to exorcise any demons in the midst of coordinated action as the first among equals.


Popular posts from this blog

Actors Theatre Indiana romps through a farce — unusually, without a founder in the cast

Indianapolis Opera presents 'A Little Night Music,' a sexy comedy of Scandinavian manners

DK's 'Divas A-New': What's past is prologue (so is what's present)