Ray Drummond's All-Star Excursion Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ray Drummond's All-Star Excursion Band


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Bassist Ray Drummond's heavy swing and sprightly solos have made him one of the most recorded sidemen in recent history, but the band he leads would probably sound great even without him. Mature young pianist Stephen Scott can summon depth, even electricity, onstage (his newest CD, Vision Quest, finally captures this energy undiminished), and saxist David Sanchez straddles the jazz and Latin-music worlds like the proverbial colossus. Craig Handy, his fellow horn man, has toured in Herbie Hancock's acoustic quartet for the last couple years, and open-eared Billy Hart, one of the signal jazz drummers of our time, swings with a skill that encompasses half a century of rhythmic innovations. It is Drummond, however, who makes this band more than just another all-star jam. He reads his bandmates' personalities with laserlike precision--for instance, he'll construct a busy harmonic scheme to harness Handy's quick reflexes and ferocious, chord-gobbling technique. And he has a gratifying affinity for the African roots and seeds of jazz. Five years ago Drummond posed a rhetorical question in a liner note: "What might happen if I were to draw more directly on the Black African musics I am hearing rather than on the way they've intermingled with other music and come down to us as jazz?" As an answer--on albums like Excursion, from 1993, and the more recent Vignettes (both on Arabesque)--he's created a fresh hybrid that avoids many Afro-Latin cliches; it's jazz studded with chunks of West African rhythm, instead of a smooth Pan-American swirl. This aspect of Drummond's music makes the absence of Senegalese percussionist Mor Thiam, who has recorded with the bassist and was originally scheduled to appear at this show, all the more lamentable. But the substitution of Guilherme Franco--a Brazilian famed for his work with Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner in the 70s--should ease the pain. The Excursion Band opens for jazz songstress Dee Dee Bridgewater, who has stepped into the breach left by the passing of such veterans as Carmen McRae and Betty Carter. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Don Hunstein.

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