On "Inversations," drummer Ari Hoenig's debut as a leader for Dreyfus Jazz, he not only displays the excellence he has come to represent as a sideman with such masters as Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Pat Martino and many others; but Hoenig also sets a bold new standard for himself as a bandleader that is sure to please the most discerning jazz aficionado. Hoenig's drumming prowess pervades this recording. His youthful vitality and unbounded energy are only two of the main ingredients of his profound musical substance that shine brilliantly on "Inversations."
"Inversations" is comprised of nine tracks (eight of which are Hoenig originals) that feature Hoenig's trio sharing their musical skills in a wide-ranging repertoire of hard bop and free avant-garde jazz. Their acclaimed improvisations speak directly to the listener in a standard of jazz language that includes hip jazz riffs, quiet sophistication and syncopated dynamics.
Inversations is a great title, and drummer Ari Hoenig lives up to it by turning tunes on their ear, building interesting melodic structures without losing his connection to listeners. Working as he frequently does with the lyrically self-possessed French pianist Jean Michel Pilc and German bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, the Philly native immediately grabs our attention with a jabbing, hard-edged reconfiguration of Charlie Parker's 'Anthropology." On an album dominated by originals, he's equally good at accentuating the ebb as well as the flow on ballads. With nice contributions from saxophonists Jacques Schwarz-Bart and Will Vinson, the music is always in motion. Youre never unaware of Hoenig's presence--he's an aggressive, more-is-more type of drummer--but he has the personality to make that approach work and the gumption to hold things together. --Lloyd Sachs
Leader/drummer Hoenig and pianist Pilc have played together quite a bit before, but they've never unleashed the full artillery as they do here. First of all, Pilc is a ridiculously talented player, an ADHD-ish, frenetic groove-meister--and I mean nothing negative about that assessment. He charges out of the gate on the opener, the Charlie Parker number, "Anthropology," and Hoenig matches his every move. Together they create a kaleidoscopically feverish movement of sound and rhythm that blows away any lingering cobwebs.
The next selection, "Dark News," a dusky, smoky ballad, rings with hard-won authority that too many jazzers seek to evoke but don't have the proper access to and perspective on the hard life that most creative improvisational musicians daily experience.
"Rapscallion Cattle" (huh?), after laying down an entirely attractive mid-tempo groove, morphs into a blazing forum of drum pyrotechnics, followed by some very smart alto-sax statements from Will Vinson, a name new to me but someone to watch closely, then devolves into general controlled mayhem from all involved, and finally ends with a quite attractive pullback outro.
"W. B. Blues" opens with some righteous musings from the very accomplished bassist Johannes Weidenmuller, a long-time Hoenig collaborator, slides into a demonstration of way-colorful drumming by the leader, who, passing the baton to Pilc, uncorks a series of pianisms so bloozy as to break your heart. Hoenig counters with wildly idiosyncratic drumming, underscoring the feral heart of this crazy number.
On "Farewell," a mournfully elegiac ballad, the band proves they can nail musical/emotional heartbreak as well as anyone. I'm especially taken by the expressively dolorous sentiments purveyed by Weidenmuller's brilliant solo, deftly followed up by Pilc's somber solo.
"Falling in Love with Love," the beguiling Rogers and Hart vehicle, receives a thorough deconstruction only to undergo a deft and loving retrieval. I'm especially taken by the highwire group interaction, highlighted by the Pilc/Hoenig antics played out around the middle of the number and casually trumped by Weidenmuller's great bass solo.
Music of this brilliance often astounds more than endears. Not here. "Astoundance" and endearment so regularly entwine that one can't, and, in the long run, doesn't care to, untangle them.