Album Review: Rudy Royston – 303

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Rudy Royston

rudy royston

303 – GRE-CD-1035 www.greenleafmusic.com  Mimi Sunrise; Play on Words; Prayer (for the People); Goodnight Kinyah; Gangs of New York; High and Dry; Miles to Go (Sunset Road); 303; Ave Verum Corpus; Prayer (for the Earth)

PERSONNEL: Rudy Royston, drums, percussion; Sam Harris, piano, Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Mimi Jones, bass; Jon Irabagon, saxophones; Nadja Noordhuis, trumpet; Nir Felder, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

Rudy Royston has put in a lot of work over the years on his way to his first set as a leader. Jazz fans have heard him keeping time behind Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Tia Fuller, J.D. Allen and others. His versatility has made him a first call drummer for straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, soul jazz and everything in between. On 303, the first album under his name, Mr. Royston has put together a band of mostly unknown but capable musicians to produce a very forceful debut.

While 303 (named for the area code in Royston’s hometown of Denver) is definitely a jazz album, it’s one that can’t easily be categorized, which isn’t a surprise, considering the breadth of Royston’s experience. Royston is also confident enough to let the music take its time and for the personalities of his colleagues to show through in their solos.  You don’t doubt that this is the drummer’s album but we are spared the spectacle of ten minute drum solos or of the drums being mixed way out front in order to prove it. Royston is joined by Sam Harris a strong young pianist who has also recorded with Ambrose Akinmusire and is currently playing with Linda Oh.  Yasushi Yakamura and Mimi Jones split the bass duties. They are considered two of the top young bassists on the New York scene with Ms. Jones just having released her critically acclaimed second album, Balance. Jon Irabagon, a darling of the downtown free jazz scene (Mary Halvorson, Other People Do The Killing, etc.) and Nadje Noordhuis, an impressive Australian born trumpet player with a full, warm tone, are the horns and Nir Felder, a guitarist who is new to me but has been quite busy of late with Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey DeFrancesco and Eric Harland, rounds out the band.

Most memorable among the cuts are “Bownze”, a track that Mr. Royston says was inspired by Michael Jackson’s recording of “Rockin’ Robin”. While I didn’t hear any of the King of Pop in this cut, I did really dig Royston’s drum work and the way Irabagon’s staccato tenor punctuated the performance and Harris piano added some sweet chord fills. “Play on Words” is a driving straight-ahead tune on which Felder’s guitar and Irabagon’s tenor really shine, especially as he trades eights with Harris.  “Miles to Go (Sunset Road)” is an irresistible laid back groove that rides along on Ms. Jones’ bass and Felder’s guitar, while the horns repeat a hypnotic figure. My only complaint about it is that it ended too quickly, which is too bad because there was an awesome Reggae/Jazz jam about to break out. “Gangs of New York”, which Royston says was inspired by both the Scorsese film and by the hardcore braggadocio of NYC rappers, starts out beautifully, contradicting its stated inspirations. Then, after a gorgeous trumpet solo by Ms. Noordhuis, the piece suddenly turns edgy, with short horn bursts announcing the “war” that is brought on by Felder’s rock tinged guitar. It was not expected but it was quite interesting.

Rudy Royston’s 303 is an impressive debut. It is the work of an artist who is willing to stretch jazz’s conventions as he grows but who is prepared to let others join him on the ride. I hope that Royston continues to work with this group of musicians because I think that they still have a lot more to say as a collective.

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