A Momentary Lapse
Innova 581

You may well ask, after hearing this excellent CD, who Andrew Drury is and why he isn’t better known?

Answering the first question is easier than dealing with the second. The New York-based drummer/composer has played with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and reedist Vinny Golia, among others, created and photographed site-specific drum solos in desert and mountain settings, led junk percussion workshops and recorded two earlier CDs. Yet not only are his percussion skills up to snuff, but on evidence of the tunes here, he’s a sophisticated modern composer as well. He mixes the sense of rhythm and sensitivity that characterizes drummer-composers like Max Roach and Gerry Hemingway with voicing and arrangements that connect sophisticated EuroImprov sensibility with New World swing.

Drury is also the least known musician on his own session. Bassist Mark Dresser has performed with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Gerry Hemingway; violinist Eyvind Kang is a John Zorn associate; one reedist, Briggan Krauss, has worked with Satoko Fujii; the other, Chris Speed has been in bands led by Tim Berne and pianist Myra Melford; and Melford herself holds down the piano chair.

In simple, unfettered melodiousness, as a matter of fact, some of Drury’s tunes are reminiscent of those recorded by Melford’s The Same River, Twice quintet featuring Speed. This comparison is meant in the best possible way, since Melford’s compositions were some of the best of the late 1990s. Of course with both violin and bass Drury goes the pianist one better, intelligently integrating two, often arco, string styles into his compositions. And what compositions they are.

For instance, on “Some Powerful Woman/Why” the theme is first suggested with pizzicato violin lines, tremolo piano chording and floating clarinet tones — the linkage a common classical chamber music configuration. Then, as the melody advances, sawing, reverberating double-stopped bass tones back up wavering, high-pitched reed lines, intermittently interrupted by single whacks on a gong and echoing tiny cymbal scratches. After the winnowing tones of the clarinet-string-piano trio alternate so-called classical and so-called World music, the penultimate section introduces a swinging modern jazz feeling. While the fragility of the semi-classical lines is maintained, heavier snare and bass drum accompaniment harden the theme.

Drury also knows how to inaugurate a session, as he does with the almost 11-minute “The Schwartzes”. Built on Dresser’s repeated bass vamp and understated piano fills from Melford, the rollicking theme is reminiscent of some of those free-for-alls indulged in by the Italian Instabile Orchestras. Performing at his most swingingly rhythmic, Kang takes an andante, slipping, sliding and stopping glissando solo. Drury counters with a steadfast beat, as the horny goat sounds of Krauss’s clarbone, which resembles a bagpipe, spew out more tonal colors. Following some circling piano octaves and writhing, high-pitched reed honks and trills, the theme is reprised then taken out with squeaks from Kang and hearty Bronx cheers from the reedists.

In contrast “Växjö Kollektiv” with its rococo violin and arco bass beginning, features sophisticated writing for strings, which Drury knows how to integrate into a performance without sounding artificial. An acclivity of different string and woodwind tones propels the melody until it’s taken up and given rhythmic impetus by the alto saxophone. Mellow tenor saxophone and granular violin lines toy with the theme, then Melford slides out some two-handed, mainstream chords and Drury offers sedate stick work. Finally the theme, in an aeronautical tempo, reappears once again, and fades into a thicket of quasi-baroque string and woodwind sounds.

Drury is also capable of writing mordant, Kurt Weill-style cabaret material as he shows with “Guanajuato”. Here pumping piano fantasias mix it up with resonating staccato timbres from clarinet, tenor sax and strings. Then, over a background of asymmetrical drumbeats, each musician’s part seems to separate itself from the others and go its own way. Following a forceful guitar-like flat picking episode from Dresser, the theme reappears until it’s completed with forward-moving horns and strings plus jagged drum beats.

Elsewhere, Melford shows that she can slide over the keyboard with a bluesy updating of Red Garland’s touch as easily as she can produce the sympathetic vibrations that characterize McCoy Tyner’s attack. One clarinetist can suggest a musette-like tone, while the other flirts with micotonalism. And Kang’s interpretations range from pizzicato plucks that recall South American Indians to electrified double stopping that could be related to Jean Luc Ponty’s work, if the Frenchman had more taste and restraint.

Still, all of these talents are in the service of Drury’s exceptional compositions, which prove tune after tune that melding Eurocentric formality and American syncopation can be as smoothly put to use by an undersung Yank as better-known Continentals.

Evidence here indicates that the playing and writing Drury demonstrations on this CD is no momentary lapse. Although there’s every probability that he will produce more exceptional music in the future, right now, you have this CD to seek out and admire.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Schwartzes 2. Salal 3. Växjö Kollektiv 4.Coplais 5. Geek’s Revenge 6. Some Powerful Woman/Why 7. Anniversary of a Non-Marriage 8. Guanajuato 9. Keep the Fool

Personnel: Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone, clarinet); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Eyvind Kang (violin); Myra Melford (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Andrew Drury (drums)