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Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism

Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism

Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism
April 15
07:47 2019

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The five covers on this New Orleans-flavoured set range from a slinky reading of the torch-song ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” to a raucous re-make of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. And, confirming Herlin Riley’s Crescent City roots, the second line strut of “Twelve’s It”, composed by Riley’s mentor, pianist Ellis Marsalis, rounds out the set.

The album’s core, though, is the upbeat modernism that Riley finessed in his years drumming with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Here it powers a brash-and-brassy two horns-and-rhythm quintet drawn from New Direction, Riley’s previous release. Trumpeter Bruce Harris and alto saxophonist Godwin Louis are razor-sharp in the theme and solo soulfully, bassist Russell Hall is a woody-toned mainstay and Emmet Cohen’s comping and chordwork expertly bridge front line and rhythm.

Riley underpins the album’s sinewy backbeats, choppy riffs and speedy walking lines with the same precision, drive and attention to detail that wins him plaudits when he plays with veteran pianist Ahmad Jamal. Riley’s control of drum kit sonics is imperious throughout this CD, and each ping, thump and rattle imbues a largely original repertoire with meaning and warmth.

The programme begins with the hustle, bustle and counterpoint bass of “Rush Hour” and continues with the tempo changing urgency of “Be There When I Get There”. The first comes with toasting trumpet and handclaps accentuating the beat, the second with harmonised fanfares and pointed riffs. The modal “Borders Without Lines” progresses at speed and “Perpetual Optimism”, the chirpy title track, has a bittersweet undertow that suggests that a half-full glass is, nevertheless, also half-empty.

Elsewhere, saxophonist Godwin Louis curls sensuous lines round the steady walk of “Touched” and Emmet Cohen’s light-touch fluency enhances the brush-driven swing of the warhorse standard “Stella by Starlight”. The album’s highlight, “Wings and Roots”, an ensemble delight, sits sparse brass harmonies on interlocking rhythms in a neat balance of earthy rhythm and modernist drive.

★★★★☆

Perpetual Optimism’ is released by Mack Avenue Records

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