A First-Class Tuneful Album from Alex Wyatt
Drummers aren’t expected to be first-class composers. They don’t have to be: these days, simply being able to swing is enough to make a drummer, or for that matter pretty much any musician, perpetually in demand. And while Alex Wyatt swings, his greatest strength is his tunesmithing. His new sextet album There’s Always Something is jam-packed with as much melody as pulsing rhythm. Wyatt’s role here is equal parts colorist and rhythmic center, leading an inspired band of Chris Tordini on bass, Greg Ruggiero on guitar, Danny Fox on piano, Kyle Wilson on tenor sax and and Masahiro Yamamoto on alto.
Expansively lyrical solos from Fox, Yamamoto and Ruggiero (swinging through a series of slippery hammer-ons) fuel the easygoing but pensively nocturnal and metrically shapeshifting title track. The absolutely gorgeous, rhythmically tricky Clockwork works slightly Ethiopian-tinged riffage, the saxes circling each other over suspensefully chordal guitar pedalpoint that kicks off some terse syncopation from Fox and a judiciously crescendoing, unselfconsciously attractive alto solo. Imperial Chew uses its richly swirling counterpoint between the saxes, guitar and piano as a launching pad for glimmering rivulets from Fox, playfully divergent harmonies from the saxes and some tasty, clenched-teeth cymbal work from Wyatt.
Giraffe works playful, slightly tongue-in-cheek variations on a loping alto-and-drums groove into a balmy jazz waltz. Wyatt’s masterful, sotto-vocce brushwork propels Simple Song until it crescendos and he switches to sticks: it’s a lush bossa tune accentuated by Fox’s warmly twinkling lines and airy sax harmonies that coalesce out of the ether. Cop Party is irresistibly funny and gently over-the-top: think Mostly Other People Do the Killing in a rare, extended lyrical moment, the entire band getting in on the sarcasm, warmly evocative despite themselves.
As the title implies, Words Fail, but its melody doesn’t, an unselfconsciously tender ballad, Ruggiero’s terse spaciousness setting a mood which the band maintains perfectly as they go gently around the horn. Drunkey, a swing tune, has a suspicious, possibly satirical, loungey effervescence. The album winds up with Eugi, a shuffling anthem with a wistful, Americana-flavored bittersweetness that reminds of brilliant Boston ensemble Hee Hawk.
Accessible as all this is, the arrangements are consistently interesting; intuitive as the melodies are, the playing is often considerably less so. As you would expect, Wyatt gets a lot of work: his next gig with this band is at Launchpad, 721 Franklin Ave. in Bed-Stuy on Apr 24 at 8 PM.
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