Ernesto Cervini Quartet

There Anzic Records ANZ-3200

By Ken Waxman

Drummers often make good composers – think Max Roach, Gerry Hemingway and John Hollenbeck – and Toronto’s Ernesto Cervini is no exception. Perhaps it’s because good percussionists possess a sense of dynamics as well as rhythmic smarts. On this live session recorded There, at a club in Vancouver B.C., Cervini has penned a series of memorable lines, played with swinging professionalism by his Big Apple-Hogtown quartet. Besides the drummer, the band is made up of Toronto pianist/educator Adrean Farrugia, plus two versatile Brooklynites, Joel Frahm, who alternates between slinky soprano saxophone and mellow tenor sax and bassist Dan Loomis.

The quartet’s cumulative talent is put in boldest relief on “Secret Love”, the set’s one standard. Played in a Jazz Messengers manner, the piece includes a gospelish piano into, Frahm exposing gritty variants which he elaborates in tandem with the pianist, and the drummer holding everything together with rattles and pop.

Although a drummer’s date There contains only two brief percussion displays at set’s end, with the inventive Cervini preferring to shift the focus to his compositions. “TGV”, for instance, has a melody he based on the recorded music which precedes the arrival of France’s bullet train. Given a continental flair by Farrugia’s chord pile-up, the theme is then unraveled by Frahm with low-pitched slurs and the occasional, uncharacteristic altissimo screech. Taken out by the composer’s rim shots and rolls, this sort of strategy characterizes most of the other speedy pieces. “Tullamore”, named for an Ontario hamlet, highlights the combo’s ballad skills, with Loomis’ low key bass lines introducing the theme and elaborating it, while the pianist’s baroque-styled noodling provides another interesting take.

Farrugia’s facility may be the fine set’s one weakness. His speed and overt funkiness is sometimes more reminiscent of Les McCann than Horace Silver, and he rarely leaves breathing space in his solos. Someone whose playing is the antithesis of Thelonious Monk’s economy, his solo sounds awkward on “The Monks of Oka”, which celebrates both the pianist and the clerics who make Quebec’s famous cheese.

Still this is a minor quibble about a band which obviously excited the west coast audience, and accomplished whatever goals it set for itself. And watch out for Cervini as a composer.

Tracks: Granada Bus; Secret Love; Gramps; TGV; The Monks of Oka; Alert;

Personnel: Joel Frahm: soprano and tenor saxophones; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Dan Loomis: bass; Ernesto Cervini: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record February 2012