Bobby Previte

Terminals
Cantaloupe Music CA 21102

By Ken Waxman

This isn’t the Bobby Previte of The Voodoo Orchestra North or his gigs with Charlie Hunter. Instead Terminals features the drummer as composer of concertos for the Sō Percussion ensemble, each of which features a different improvising soloist. With a formal structure these lengthy pieces rise or fall depending on the improviser’s skills. Luckily the odds are better than average.

Since the four-member Sō ensemble plays a percussion factory’s inventory of drums, cymbals, vibes, bells and nearly every other idiophone, “Terminal 4” which features Previte is rather like distinguishing the silhouette of a black cat on a dark night. By mid-point though, Previte crucially makes his presence felt by consolidating everyone’s clanks, clunks and whacks into approximation of what could be termed modern jazz. Conversely “Terminal 1” suffers from a peculiar drawback. Until electric harpist Zeena Parkins asserts herself, tugging gritty glissandi into approximations of electric guitar runs, the weighty history of her instrument nearly makes the proceedings too formal. With precise mallet pops and drum beats merely accompanying her sweep, she’s forced to use electric processes to move the piece into a freer space.

More eventful are tracks featuring alto saxophonist Greg Osby, guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist John Medeski. Each an experienced improviser on his own, they collectively – and nearly literally in the saxophonist’s case – blow the percussionists out of the way if the ensemble impedes creativity; or otherwise shepherd the four into appropriate roles. Osby’s distinctively tart tone plots a straightforward course no matter which procession of gongs, thunder sheets, marimbas and other textures resound around him. With the drummers’ contributions merged into cicada-like buzzing, the reedist doesn’t even pause in his thematic variations when one drummer outputs siren-like whistles alongside. Osby’s strong showing confirms Previte’s conception.

So too in their fashion do Cline and Medeski. With focused patterning from the piano as well as skittering smears from the organ, Medeski cajoles the Sō ensemble into turning a drum continuum into a gospel-styled groove they probably never experienced in classical percussion studies. The guitarist’s twanging reverberations plus resolutely swelling harmonic buzzes also encourage the percussionists to loosen up on “Terminal 3”. By the climax he’s improvising over a distinctive near-swinging continuum which appears to be equal parts The Incredible Bongo Band, Rich vs Roach and Mitch Mitchell with Hendrix.

Terminals demonstrates Previte’s talent as a composer. But would the results be as notable, with other, less convincing soloists?

Tracks: Terminal 1*; Terminal 2+; Terminal 3#; Terminal 4; Terminal 5~

Personnel: Greg Osby: alto saxophone+; John Medeski: Hammond organ, piano~; Nels Cline: guitar)#; Zeena Parkins: electric harp*; Bobby Previte: drums; Sō Percussion: Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting

—For The New York City Jazz Record June 2015